A Story in Response to Billybuc Photo Challenge Prompt Installment 1

Updated on January 22, 2020
snakeslane profile image

Verlie Burroughs is a west coast writer from Vancouver Island.

Source

Stone

It was just another writing gig, and she took every gig she could get. A picture prompt this time, write a thousand words for a local online rag. Easy peas-y. Or so she thought. She'd written it all, hard news, soft news, fake news, you name it. Obituaries were her specialty. Same old format, different names.

But this was a special assignment, a contest promising big rewards, an all expenses paid trip to Tahiti, and guaranteed readership by millions of online viewers. A chance at the big time. It could be the break she'd been waiting for, accolades and exposure; every writer's dream.

The prompt had her stymied at first. A headstone in a meadow of wildflowers. A sense of peaceful finality? Death of course. Life and death.


Stone

The road was long. That she knew. And the fact that she may not find what she was looking for made it seem even longer; the road back to the beginning of her story.

She had a goal in mind, to find the final resting place of her long-dead Great-Grandfather who she had never met (who died before she was born?). A family-tree quest turned obsession, leading her onward into the past.

She had so little to go on, couldn't speak the language, didn't comprehend the scale of the changes that had occurred, and she had no written record she could read even if there was one to find.

There were only a few scraps of information passed down in the family. A beautiful handwritten genealogy chart her Mother had started in the red leather bound book of family medicine (ointment for burns, treatment and cures for childhood illnesses like measles, and whooping cough and chicken pox).

Strange that she felt that she knew him. Was he pictured in the photographs she remembered as a child? Lost now, like so much of her past in the flotsam and jetsam of intervening generations' relinquishing ties to the past in their constant moving and uprooting.

She thought she remembered seeing a photo of a man in a cap and a dark brooding face with a pencil thin mustache. In a ship manifest online she found him listed as a passenger, a 'soldier' was the occupation he gave. Small clues.

According to the ship's manifest he was travelling alone, and disembarked at Ellis Island. What would he feel setting foot in a new world? Joy? Relief? Anticipation? The document gave no indication of his mood. She had to imagine he felt excited.

In the next manifest she found he was accompanied by his wife and seven children. So he must have staked out the territory, then returned to fetch his family once arrangements were made for them to join him.

What did they leave behind? Were they sad to leave friends? To leave their home? Or did they just manage to escape with their lives, and a few belongings they could bring? Did they worry about learning a new language? Were they treated well where they went?

They settled in the West. He worked as a miner. The children married. One son went to war. Then they moved to the coast. The whole family followed. By the time she was born there were four generations in the same small city, but he was gone. She didn't remember him. His wife she recalled vaguely, a white-haired old woman in a wheel chair, on a visit to the city (she had been expecting skyscrapers and was disappointed and sulking when they arrived (in the car) at a small suburban house on a quiet suburban street).

The daughters (her Great Aunts) were there, with their straight long brown hair. And the children were sent outside to play in the garden. Children were to be seen and not heard, so possibly they didn't even speak, or were told to hush if they did. She remembered that it felt very strange and serious somehow. Perhaps the Great Grandfather had recently passed away. They probably wouldn't have discussed that in front of the children.

She was never satisfied, not knowing what had transpired in the lives of these ancestors. She was dismayed that their stories could be lost so easily, and made a pledge to dig a little deeper into their history, to honor them perhaps? Or maybe to understand herself a little better.

She wanted to bring the past to life, to understand how it had shaped the present.

Searching online she found horrific stories that haunted her, of people who were not able to flee, who starved, and died in the Holodomor. She found a history that was never taught in her history classes. It shocked and frightened her to realize that there had been a genocide that was largely ignored, and forgotten even as it was happening.

Online she found birth certificates and death notices, census records, and marriage announcements, an easy trail to follow in English, but the trail grew murky and disappeared in the old country with the language barrier, and the wars and political turmoil that had displaced people over and over again through the years. It was an impossible task.

So if she couldn't find his history, if she couldn't know anything about his life, she decided the least she could do was find his grave, and pay him a visit, and this she did.

It was a sweet summery day in May. The birds were singing in the chirpy way birds do. The wildflowers were fresh and bright. The sun was warm as she approached his stone in the old church yard cemetery. She read the inscription, saw that his wife was buried next to him with a little plaque, engraved as well. Names, birth and death, that was it. There was no story to be found here either.

But there was a sense of place, and a sense of closure. There was a sense of relief knowing that this couple who were forced to flee a war torn land, had in the end found a peaceful place to rest.

© 2020 Verlie Burroughs

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    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      7 months ago from Canada

      Thanks so much Nikki. I appreciate your reading. I enjoyed the challenge. Your story is amazing!

    • nikkikhan10 profile image

      Nikki Khan 

      7 months ago from London

      This is quite an incredible story, Verlie. Very well-rounded and drawn to a stunning tale. You have met the challenge so well, my dear.

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      7 months ago from Canada

      Thanks for reading Umesh!

    • bhattuc profile image

      Umesh Chandra Bhatt 

      7 months ago from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India

      Nice one. Well written. Thanks.

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Hi Paula, thanks for the well wishes. Life is good, but a little bit of luck wouldn't hurt :) Cheers lady!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Suzie 

      8 months ago from Carson City

      Verlie.......Such a beautiful tale.......quite sobering. You've given the competition, a tough job! All I need do is wish you luck!! Bill will have quite a time, going over all the wonderful submissions! Your talent and style are all your very own! Cheers, Paula

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Kari, thank you so much :)

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Hello Peg Cole from northeast of Dallas, thanks for sharing that story about your Grandmother, what an amazing journey it must have been.

      I bet you could write it, you are so good at sleuthing, and sorting through the past. It's good to see you!

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Ann that's good to hear. Looking forward to reading your story. No pressure :)

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Oh goody, I have mail :) Thank you Maria. What fun eh. You have a happy day too.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      8 months ago from Ohio

      Excellent, Verlie! I really like your story.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      8 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Your story takes the reader on a journey of discovery beyond and between the dash on the cemetery slab.

      "Did they just manage to escape with their lives, and a few belongings they could bring? Did they worry about learning a new language? Were they treated well where they went?"

      You've captured many issues that faced people coming from another country to start a new life in a foreign land. Made me think of my grandmother who spent 3 weeks on an ocean liner to come to the US, not knowing English, landing in a strange port. I wish I'd asked her about the voyage while I still could.

      Nicely done, V. You've inspired others with your tale.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      8 months ago from SW England

      My story is in the making, Verlie. Time is tight so it may take a while. I also have another challenge one to write but I don't want to rush it!

      Thanks for encouraging me!

      Ann

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      8 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Haunting and ultimately peaceful tale, dear Verlie. You are truly a born writer.

      Have a happy day. Love, mar

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Dora thank you! So appreciate your reading.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      8 months ago from The Caribbean

      Your combined themes of family, memories, searching and finding peace make an appealing story. Thanks for a good read!

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Chris, thanks so much for your encouraging comment, high praise coming from a master story-teller. Sorry I almost missed it in my bleary-eyed late-night reading.

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Lorna, thanks again for your kindness. 'Tis but a rough draft, I'm never satisfied. But it's great to get your positive feedback..

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Thanks Audrey! I wish :)

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      8 months ago

      I love this story Verlie and you have managed to create a real sense of the journey, home and peace. An excellent write.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      You are sure to win the trip to Tahiti! A very nice story and response to Bill's prompt.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      8 months ago from Traverse City, MI

      This is a beautiful story about the search for knowledge and closure. I'm glad she found a degree of satisfaction in the end. Good story.

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Thanks Manatita for your generous heartening support of fellow writers. I'm happy you enjoyed the read.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      8 months ago from london

      A beautiful piece! You added your own unique style and made the challenge your own. Excellent!

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Thanks John, I won't hold my breath. Having even a few readers is reward enough.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      8 months ago from Queensland Australia

      A very interesting story you wove here, Verlie. I hope you win the trip to Tahiti and the guaranteed online readership of millions that Bill offered lol. I am enjoying the different interpretations of the writers in this challenge.

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Thank you so much Shauna. Yes it is fascinating to see how each writer responds to the prompts.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      8 months ago from Central Florida

      What started out as tumultuous for her ancestors and frustrating for the narrator, ended in peace and acceptance. Perhaps she'll track down her living relatives and ask them questions. Someone must know a bit more history than our frustrated writer can find online.

      Nice job, Verlie. It's interesting to read the various interpretations of Bill's photo prompts, isn't it?

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Thank you Bill. I don't think it's going to get me to Tahiti :)

    • snakeslane profile imageAUTHOR

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Aw thank you Ann for reading. I wrote this really fast, and didn't realize all the pictures were to be included in the one story. I thought each picture was a prompt for a separate new installment.

      Where's yours? :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Maybe not Tolstoy, Verlie, but darned good nonetheless. Sweet melancholy all through this, and I loved it. Turns out what of my favorite poets has some chops as a fiction writer. Well done my friend.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      8 months ago from SW England

      Lovely story, and you have portrayed the feelings of wanting, needing, to find out about family history, a part of everyone and something many want to find out about. The possibilities are endless, of course, and whittling it all down can take years. However, you've conveyed the feeling of home, contentment and finding peace in the fact that both are laid to rest together.

      Great response to Bill's challenge, Verlie.

      Ann

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