I'm trying to writer a story about my Dad. Part of the problem is that I have so much material about certain parts of his life and so little about others. Isn't that so true of everyone we think we're close to?
I've been to a lot of funerals in the past few years and each of them has revealed at least one thing that really surprised me. For instance, I knew Allen through the Guelph Star Trek Club. A year or so before he died he told me that he was leaving his Star Trek collection to the club. He gave us a peak at part of it and it was a considerable collection. I also knew that he was a member of a gay square dancing club and, of course, I knew he was suffering from AIDS. Once, when we were stuck in traffic, we started talking about our pasts. I thought I knew a lot about Allen, but I was wrong. I had no idea that he was an active member of Amnesty International or a member of a UN committee. And those are just the most high-profile bits of information that I learned at his funeral. (BTW Allen's collection was auctioned to other Trekophiles benefit of the club's favourite nonprofit organization - Action Read Community Literacy.)
I knew Peg Lush almost all my life. She was my mother's best friend and, I am happy to say, became one of mine as I grew older. She got me interested in municipal activism and I knew that she served on several citizen action committees for Toronto. She was active in Girl Guides of Canada and a past district Commissioner -- that how Peg and my mother met. She was well respected in the community and yet, even knowing that, I was totally blown away by the number of people who congregated at City Hall for her memorial service.
In contrast, my mother's service was relatively small -- but still many time larger than she would have expected. She suffered from depression and cut herself off from many most of her friends and colleagues in the last few years of her life. Yet, those who learned about the service filled the small funeral chapel to capacity. I'm afraid I can't tell you any great revelations I had then, however. Three months pregnant and emotionally overwhelmed by events, most of the day was a blur. I remember flashes, like a movie montage.
I grew up listening to stories my mother's side of the family. Mum, Nana and Aunty Yang were all good story tellers and I am and was a good listener. Dad's stories I had to pry out of him later in life. I learned more about him on our drives than any time else. Things he'd see would spark memories and, over time, a fragmented picture of parts of his life emerged. Even growing up with him only helps a little. He was out working so much that most of my childhood memories of him are of holidays.
The truism for good writing is write what you know. True enough, but I know my characters inside and out. Even my closest friends and family I know, and can only know, to a certain extent. Real people always hold secrets and surprises.