My wife, Judy, died five months ago and I am learning day by day how to adjust to her absence. As I told a friend at church last Sunday, I feel like a mariner who has crossed the equator: I still have my sextant and compass, but I must learn how to navigate all over again.
In our 41 years of marriage, Judy and I shared life on the most intimate (and, some would say, trivial) levels. One of our favorite pastimes was to go for long drives, just to see what we could discover together. On such a drive last July (with Judy at the wheel), we struck out east from Anderson and chose our turns as we went. We saw Wilbur Wright's birthplace, stopped for a soft-serve ice cream cone in Winchester, and realized just before sundown that we were near the Ohio state line.
All along the way, I shared my memories of growing up on a farm in East Tennessee. I got plenty of memory prompts from the hay fields and cornfields of eastern Indiana that July afternoon! In fact, each of us interrupted my childhood narrative often to comment on what we saw, smelled, and heard as we wended our way toward Ohio. Our running commentary ("Look at the snowy egret beside that pond." "This fresh-cut grass smells like a ripe watermelon," etc.) seared the memory of that drive in my mind. What I miss most about Judy is the opportunity to share those incidental observations of daily life--call them the "trivial" things if you like. I still find myself spontaneously saying things like, "I just heard a sand hill crane. There must be a flock overhead."
I felt depressed yesterday afternoon, wishing I still had a companion to share these rich trivialities of daily life. I wondered, Who could I invite to come with me now?
Immediately, the thought came: My readers. They enjoy yarns of days gone by, as much as Judy enjoyed the story of my life as a farm boy, but they want just as much to experience the sensory details along the way. I don't have to tell them what the details mean with respect to our journey or destination, though the details should have some significance for the story; I can simply call these things to our attention and let their significance unfold.
Vivid description does that. So does authentic dialogue. In fact, everything in a well-told story should sear the memory of it in the reader's mind.
I'm thinking I ought begin every story by saying to the reader (in my imagination if not on paper), "Come with me. Let's see what this world looks like today."
Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN.