Lucy's grandfather's writing lifeThe chief rea­son why I’m poorer today than when I was born is that I’m a writer who hasn’t con­vinced the world of it. Nor a sin­gle edi­tor. And the boss told me once I would do bet­ter rais­ing guinea pigs as a side line.”

So wrote James Gar­lick Moore, also known as Papa, who was my grand­fa­ther, a rail­road man, and a writer. I still remem­ber the aroma of his pipe tobacco and the clack-​clack of the keys of his ancient type­writer as he sat in his room upstairs, com­pos­ing sto­ries. And I remem­ber know­ing, when I was only five or six, that, like him, I wanted to be a writer.

Recently I was back in Rich­mond, VA, for my mother’s funeral and found some of Papa’s work among her things. With fas­ci­na­tion, I read his short sto­ries, tales of sturdy fac­tory lads stand­ing up to bul­lies, of drama at a board­ing house when a gen­tle­man comes to call, of dar­ing but oh-​so-​delightful flap­pers wear­ing skirts “that came down just low enough to hide the rolls of their stock­ings below the knee.”

Racy stuff, in those days.

What I found most com­pelling, though, was his essay on the sub­ject of writ­ing itself and the under­stand­ing that with writ­ing – as with so much in life – how lit­tle things have changed.

On rejec­tion:

It is 5:30 p.m. one day last week, in the upstairs flat that is my cas­tle. I am just home from the office and get­ting at my mail. First, a sus­pi­ciously large enve­lope. I seem to rec­og­nize my own hand­writ­ing as I rip the flap – but no, it can­not be! – but yes, it is! And a pretty lit­tle card, read­ing ‘We regret that we do not find your man­u­script suit­able for our magazine.’”

On higher education:

The only time I ever went to a high school was one night when I was there to see a play. And the high­est degree I ever attained was 104, some years ago when a pretty nurse was feel­ing my pulse and telling me fairy stories.”

On break­ing into Hollywood:

I sent a won­der­ful story to the movie folks out in Cal­i­for­nia. When that story came back from movieland, a gnat could have knocked me down! I had fully expected a let­ter read­ing some­thing like this: Dear Sir, We are enclos­ing our check for $10,000 as advance roy­al­ties on the film rights of your story.”

On bal­anc­ing writ­ing and domes­tic life:

I arrive home burst­ing with inspi­ra­tion, only to hear the wife call out, ‘Glad you’re home! I want you to run down to the store for some but­ter!’ Well, that hashed my story until after sup­per. Then maybe the sewing machine would need fix­ing, so it would be 9:30 or 10:00 when I picked up my story. By the time a coher­ent group of thoughts was ready to be immor­tal­ized in black and white, Mrs. Jim would call down, ‘Don’t for­get to empty the ice-​pan!’ Where­upon I’d stop and empty it. Then I’d come back and write some more, until my mate’s voice sounded again, ‘And by the way, dear, stick a note in the milk bot­tle for a quart of buttermilk.’”

On being a writer:

The click of the wheels over the rail-​joints, the rhythm of the steam, the throb­bing of the mighty pulse of the engine – these things are in my blood! It is easy to com­pre­hend my affec­tion for rail­road­ing. But where did I get my wild desire to write? This urge that some­times is an agony, dig­ging at my impo­tence to express the things I feel? This sub­lime faith in my abil­ity, which has caused me to neglect oppor­tu­ni­ties for prac­ti­cal advance­ment and net­ted me noth­ing, so far, but a lot of pretty rejec­tion slips?

What I want to know is: how did I get this way?”

How, indeed? I imag­ine writ­ers through­out the ages have asked that question.

As for me, I don’t care so much why I write as that I do write. And I’m happy and grate­ful that it con­nects me to my grandfather.

Add com­ment
  • No com­ments found