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Harvesting Stories

Wendy Hornsby

People might move away, but they always leave something of themselves behind. Sometimes what they leave is tangible, and sometimes it isn’t. But they always leave a story to be found. 

For example, one recent crisp and beautiful morning, while preparing some ground to plant a garden, by accident I disinterred a little plastic soldier, a double amputee, with my spade. He was so carefully laid out that I scraped around and discovered half a dozen more little men, some of them also missing an appendage or two, all of them arranged in two precise rows of graves. Why? I wondered, trying to imagine the child, or children, who had taken so much care, and the game they were playing. We bought the house from a senior military officer last fall. Had his children attended military funerals?   

As I gathered up the broken toy men, I could envision the ceremony, the speeches, that I would expect to have accompanied their burial. If I were writing the scene, there would be great speeches, lots of saluting, and big flags. I was moved enough by what I imagined had happened that I reinterred the dismembered soldiers in a quiet place under the lavender. And planted tomatoes where they had been, because that is my story. 

Whenever I rake or dig or trim in the yard, I find bits and pieces left behind by the children who played here, and their parents. Someone must have spilled or thrown the contents of a bead kit, because there are bright plastic beads all over the ground, front yard and back, as if Blackbeard’s stash had been found and scattered. A big brother tormenting his little sister? A treasure hunt? What if, hidden among the plastic beads, there is a genuine ruby or emerald?  Hmmm? 

Flattened balls I discard, but other small bits I collect when I find them. There are now two slightly corroded Hot Wheels cars and various wheels, dolly bottles and pre-Euro French coins—a puzzle—in the bottom of my gardenl basket. As I dig and discover, stories inevitably take form. What if I found something of real value? What if someone wanted it back? Wanted it very badly. What if…. 

Yesterday, after I found something very shiny under a rock border I’m removing, I went inside and wrote a short story. Today I rewrote it. Tomorrow I’ll polish it. Friday I’ll mail it off.  Thank you, kids. 

It seems to me that whenever I plant seeds in the yard, I harvest stories. Take a drive, go for a walk or a swim, and characters, plots, and exchanges of fictional dialogue go along. Some of the most productive writing I do happens when I am somewhere other than in front of the computer. Nothing, of course, has actual substance unless my bottom goes into the chair in front of the keyboard for a sufficient amount of time to create an actual, tangible, piece of work. But often the real work, the fun part, has happened before I hang my sun hat on its peg.


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