Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Lessons of our Ancestors

I want to tell you about my grandmother, about how wise she was and how she impacted my life. She died a long time ago, the nineteen seventies, in fact, but even after so many years, she still holds influence over my life. Her name was Luella, and she was my mentor. She was a story teller. She was not a writer. She was a chronicler of life’s triumphs and tragedies through the oral tradition. Nothing made her happier than to ‘catch someone’s ear’, as she liked to call it. She lived with us when I was growing up and she captivated me with her stories and her wisdom.
Let me say this. I believe that our culturewe Americans particularly, and perhaps all of western culturegrossly undervalues the wisdom of those who have come before us. Unlike most eastern and indigenous cultures, we pretty much ignore, even dismiss the old as irrelevant. For obvious reasons we are fixated on youth. They’re young, they’re beautiful, they’re hip. Everything we see in the media, from television to movies to advertisements, tells us that being young is where it’s at and that we should value youth over and above everything else. And I agree that we should value youth. The young are, after all, the future. But in not valuing the wisdom and experience of our elders, we are not only disrespecting them, we are losing something vital from our culture.
I was the only one of the grandchildren who took an interest in what Gram Hall had to say. I don’t know why that connection was so strong. Perhaps it was because she saw something in me and tried harder than she did with the others.
It’s no secret that I’m a dark fiction writer. It’s where my mind seems to go whenever I sit down to write. I can’t help it. That’s the way I’m made and I have no reason to believe it will ever change. However, there is redemption in all of my stories and I owe that to Gram Hall. The main theme of my work is the triumph of good over evil. This is something she taught me as important. She said that even in the most desperate of situations there is always room for hope. I listened and I learned. It is the main theme for The Hero of Elm Street a story I wrote in her honor about a heroic young man and the young woman who loved him.
Gram Hall didn’t tell horror stories or paranormal stories as we know them today. Instead she told ghost stories. She had an insatiable belief in the hereafter. She knew without a doubt that the spirits of the departed walked the earth. They walked in graveyards and in old houses and down country lanes after dark. She was in tune with the dead. To her it wasn’t a frightening thing. On the contrary, it was a way for her to stay connected to those who had passed out of her life. I listened and I was mesmerized.
We were very close for a lot of years, so it came as no surprise when her own life was ebbing from her and she lay in a semi-coma in a hospital bed, that I was the only one of all her visitors she spoke to.
I was twenty-two years old at the time, newly married and had started a family of my own. I’d been busy and hadn’t been to see Gram in several months. No excuse, I know. The news came and I rushed to the hospital. I came quietly into her room and stood over her bed watching her sleep. I’d been told by doctors and family members not to expect much. That it was too late and that she would more than likely just fade away.
But she didn’t fade away. She opened her eyes, smiled at me, and said, “My little Markee, (that’s what she always called me) do you remember the things I taught you?”
I nodded as tears spilled down my cheeks.
“Good. I want you to know that there were reasons for it.”
“I know,” I said.
“Do you?”
“You wanted me to do something with my life,” I said. “It’s why you encouraged me to read and to think and to make my own mind up about things instead of just following blindly.”
“And what are you doing with that knowledge?” she asked.
I lowered my head. “I’m trying to write a novel,” I told her.
“Wonderful,” she said. “I knew you would.”
And I did. It took me years to finally finish that first novel. Then I wrote another and another, and through it all I never lost sight of how important Gram Hall’s influence was on me. If not for her it would probably never have gotten done. I owe her everything.
She died that night but her spirit lives on in me. She’d be happy to know that.
Please, if there’s an elderly person in your life, sit down and talk to them, but mostly just listen. You’ll be amazed at the things you might learn. 

Mark Edward Hall