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Cam Marston on His Family's Love for Writing

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On this week’s Keepin’ It Real, Cam Marston shares a little of bit of his family’s history and maybe a bit of his family’s future.

My grandfather, George Allen wrote a weekly column in the Mobile Press Register from 1967 to 1975. He was chief of the Seafoods Division for the Alabama Conservation Department. He proposed the column after the many unsafe boating practices he witnessed. After about a year, his columns meandered into personal stories and memories. The paper let him keep going. And even after moving to Atlanta, the Press-Register kept his columns called “Adventures with Old Cap.” He died in 1979. I was about ten. I remember him, but we never really connected.

In 1986 for Christmas, I received a collection of his Old Cap columns which my uncle had painstakingly gathered, retyped, and bound. It’s next to me as I write this, Post It notes tagging my favorites stories, old family photos pressed into the binding, and my own early writing folded and included between pages, hoping my grandfather’s writing talent would somehow osmose into my early stories. Reading the stories, I feel a slight connection with him. He references me as a baby in some of them, which brings a smile each time I read them.

My grandfather’s oldest child was my mother. Mom had a column in the same newspaper in the eighties and early nineties. Hers focused on professionalism, business etiquette, and customer service. She also did short local TV and radio broadcasts at different points in her career focusing on those same topics. My mother died about six months ago in early March. Lots of the kind notes I received said that my mother will live on in me, like, I suppose, my grandfather lived on in her and now in me through her. At the time, it all sounded like mystical mumbo jumbo.

Singer songwriter John Hiatt asks this: “Is it true we are possessed by the ones we leave behind, or it is by their life we are inspired?” I think it’s both. And that’s partly why I write and record these commentaries. It’s hard to put into words how much I enjoy doing them and why. It’s been a complete surprise. I feel the spirit of my mother and my grandfather as I write. The family tradition makes me feel like I can and, to a degree, that I should write them. And, like I said, I can’t quite explain how much I enjoy it. I get to express myself, tell stories, and I’m keeping the family tradition alive.

Friday afternoon my phone rang. It was my college daughter from Oxford, Mississippi. “Dad,” she said, “I just got out of class and I had to tell someone what just happened. I turned my paper in on Monday, and today the professor read it to the whole class. He said it was so good he had to read it and is going to try to find a publication in town to print it.”

A lump formed in my throat, and I smiled so big. So did my mother. So did my grandfather.

I'm Cam Marston, and I'm just trying to Keep It Real.

Cam Marston is the Keepin' It Real host for Alabama Public Radio.