The blurring of truth and fiction

My mother has helped me enormously with Unravelled, the novel I plan to self-publish this summer. Although the plot is pure fiction, some of the details came from the stories she has told me about her parents and growing up during WWII.

The other day, I told her about a scene I’d written where a young New Zealander named Jack who had been training in Canada to be a pilot, leaves for England. In my story, Emily (modelled after my mother) and Ann (modelled after my grandmother) take Jack (based on a real Kiwi named Jack) to the train station.

Mom corrected me. “My mother didn’t go with me to the station, my brother did.” But in my case, I need the fictional version for other purposes. Here’s the scene:

In October, Jack finished his training and returned to Toronto for a few days leave before going overseas. On the day of departure, Ann and Emily saw him off, walking through the great hall of Union Station, heels clicking on the flecked marble floor. Jack was in uniform, a duffel bag over his right shoulder and a smaller bag in his left hand. Emily’s arm was linked with his. Once in England Jack would begin flying for real; in all likelihood, he would soon be dropping bombs on enemy targets.

The station echoed with footsteps and conversation. Loudspeakers proclaimed the departures of each train with a swoop of place names—North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Fort William, Port Arthur, Brandon, Winnipeg—conjuring images of stations large and small, where anguished parents met polished caskets and women waved lovers good-bye, where bewildered children watched fathers in unfamiliar garb climb narrow, iron steps then lean from windows with mouths stretched in grotesque smiles.

The hall was crowded. Ann remained with Jack’s bags as he and Emily searched for information about his train to Halifax. She knew they were fond of one another; writing frequently while Jack was at flight school and spending hours together whenever he visited Toronto. She imagined they would find a quiet spot for a last embrace before joining her again.

My mother really was fond of that young Kiwi. But that story will have to wait for another day.

6 thoughts on “The blurring of truth and fiction”

  1. WWII tales like this are especially interesting to me; they put into perspective my own parents untold tales of those times. In a cemetery where they are buried is a plot of land that belongs to the people of Holland. During the war, with England crammed full of the governments of Europe, the Royal Dutch Air Force established their fighter pilot training school in Jackson, Mississippi. A lot of Dutch boys died in training, a lot more died over Europe, and many met local girls, married them, and came back.

    Many of those boys wanted to be buried in Dutch soil, and the city of Jackson gave Holland that place for them to lie. Every Memorial Day the Dutch government sends an envoy to that little patch of Holland, and a full ceremony is held with a color guard and the reading of the names of the men.

  2. Interesting –I have a memory of going to the train station in central Cleveland Ohio with my parents and my mother’s best friend Ann to deliver Ann’sboyfriend Bud to the train that would take him to his point of debarkation during WWII. I was five and I was insanly jealous of Ann, because Bud was my hero. I remember the event so clearly and that Bud promised to write me. The terminal was crowded with troops, coming home and some leaving. Some were on crutches, missing legs. That was1943. And yes, Bud came home. By then, Ann had moved on.

    1. How interesting, Linda. Sounds like a happy ending – at least for Bud! One of the reasons WWI and WWII fascinate me as a writer is that these times are so tangible to us, either through personal memory or stories our parents have told.

  3. I love stories like this. Little bits of family history that make their way into stories in another form. The novel I’m writing now is fiction but includes several snippets of family tales my mother told me over the years. Altered considerably, but she’d recognize them. Mom has passed on now, but she would have loved to read my novel and she’d have been thrilled to recognize something she’d said showing up.

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