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Cilla McCain

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Letting My Southern Roots Grow

Posted: 07/01/2012 9:53 am

For a long time now, I've been writing about injustices military families face. I have two books forthcoming surrounding this issue, and with their publication, I know that I will have said all I can on the topic. Oh, I'll always be involved as an advocate, and I will passionately nurture these books as if they were my children. But my wandering mind started asking what's next?

That's when I remembered the intrusive weed.

You see, when a writer gets an idea, it's like the planting of a stubborn seed. And if that seed takes root within, it refuses to be ignored, kind of like a weed in a rose garden.

I had such a weed pop up in my writing plans a long time ago. For quite a while, I viewed it as a pain-in-the-ass distraction. The weed is a very different story from what I have been writing, and it did not fit in with my writing goals. It is very Southern, raw and maybe even a little backwoods. Although I won't reveal what it is about yet, I found myself drawn to it and soon it became a place to which I mentally retreat. When the real world gets too mean to tolerate, I sit down at my keyboard and cultivate the story the weed is trying to tell.

Over the years, I talked about the weed with a few people. I even discussed it with Elyse, a dear Yankee friend who is also my agent's assistant. She loved the weed. Still, I kept pushing it aside. Then, a couple of things happened that made me realize this weed's story may be important.

First of all, Yankee Elyse emailed me out of the blue demanding to know when I was going to finish "the weed." Her faith in it made me take a long pause, and I realized that maybe I should take my little weed more seriously. Then, oddly enough, this realization became more pronounced when a family member alerted me to a website dedicated to the Army's 8th Armored Division of WWII. Amazingly, the site contains never-before-seen pictures of my grandfather just before he was shipped off to Europe to fight. It was surreal to see this handsome young man, long and lean, with dark hair, ready to go to war. His 19 grandchildren and great-grandchildren were not yet a gleam in his steely blue eyes, and yet here I was, looking at him 60-plus years in the past. It touched a nerve deep within me.

Suddenly, I was flooded with memories of family stories told about Granddaddy's life in Albany, Ga. One moment he was working in the field among the corn and cotton, the next he was on a ship going to a part of the world he knew nothing about. With all of these memories, it dawned on me that the nagging, stubborn weed I thought didn't fit in with my writing goals, was actually my Southern roots calling me home.

I don't know why I was surprised, after all, Southern Gothic literature was my first love. In fact, the first piece of writing that I ever had published was a magical realism short story based on my Granddaddy. But the inspiration didn't stop with him. The South is full of accomplished storytellers nobody has ever heard of. They're standing in line with you at the grocery store, fixing your hair, cashing your check at the bank, or walking down the street mumbling to themselves. They are everywhere, carrying around their stories, and you know what? I'm one of them.

Although the completion of the novel springing forth from "the weed" is a long way off, I don't ignore it anymore. If anything, I've recognized it as my very essence and that knowledge has provided a freedom I cannot describe. So, y'all, I guess the point of my story is that you should listen to your own whispers and tend to your weeds. Maybe then your essence will grow roots.

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." -- Maya Angelou

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