“Redbirds, Roses, and Ghosts: A Memoir”
Author: Gayle Young
Publisher: Bluewater Publications
Price: $18.95 (paper)
Gayle Young has subtitled her book “A Memoir” and it is that, in part.
Young, in her sixties, in the middle of an ordinary July, retires after years of working as an assistant and typist in a law office. She enjoyed the work but, like so many, she had always dreamed of being a writer.
Over the years she had finished some poems and stories, but now, in retirement, there would be time, which is dangerous: it leaves one with no excuse!
As she says on page one, on her first day of retirement, she made some resolutions. In the first year she will finish the novel she started 20 years earlier. This novel, a melodrama, has plucky Heather as heroine, going through perilous adventures, including rape and revenge.
Also, Young, who had always struggled with her weight, will lose 20 pounds.
“How difficult could it be?” she writes.
Well, we all know the answer to that.
Writing anything is a tricky business. Inspiration, so called, is always in short supply. Distractions abound, and the would-be writer leaps at each one.
And all who write at home know the refrigerator is always there, tempting us. Experienced cooks also know it only takes a minute to bake some cookies.
Young means well. She gets herself on the back porch with coffee, is serenaded by redbirds, and she meditates. For a short time.
Then feeling hungry, she eats: fried chicken, potato chips, potato salad, brownies, cola, and more while watching reruns of “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie” and playing with the dog.
Young shows a frightening honesty in these passages.
Looking for a spark, she browses through old notebooks she had kept over the years—beginnings of stories, fragments, poetry.
Inserted in this nonfiction book are some stories and poems she had already written. They are not terrible but not polished either. They have, it seems to me, the surreal and anecdotal quality of dreams.
In “The Picnic,” the young Gayle, having slipped, hit her head and drowned, as a ghost finds her husband in a bar with a blonde.
The story “The Earthquake” is equally interpretable. All her thinking about the past has awakened powerful feelings about the loss of her own youth. This story shows her in childhood, with beloved mother, stepfather and brother, but an earthquake creates a ravine, with her childhood on the other side. These memories, seemingly distractions from her writing, will become the core of this memoir.
Of course we must come to terms with the past, but the present also poses problems for the writer.
Young loves her children and grandchildren deeply, but as with all families, the young grow up and move. Family reunions become both harder to achieve and ever more important, at the same time.
She learns a valuable lesson in a vision/visitation from her deceased mother who reminds her: “You’ve got to get busy, do things you enjoy today. Live today. It’s okay to occasionally look back, but you can’t stay there. And you can’t depend on your children to give your life meaning.”
Young does get her weight under control, eating less and going to water aerobics, which she calls “the second most fun way to get exercise.” As to the Heather novel, it’s unlikely it will ever get published, and that’s probably just as well. What’s here is a sincere, if often sentimental, year-long celebration of nostalgia and family. Too sweet for some, I would think, but just right for many.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.