Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Over the years at the Laurels...

(This is another chapter from "MY STORY," Diana Carpenter White's personal and family history. A work in progress.)

By Diana Carpenter White

Over the years at the Laurels, leading up to the big 100th, Uncle Bob had written bits and pieces of stories, memoirs, and re-tellings, and Sue had helped him put the first version together (for his 90th birthday), What Makes Bob Tick,  and it was a stapled document that some of us got at that birthday party.  Then there was the second collection, incorporating the first, called Along the Way.  Of course he kept writing.   In 2011, his 100th year, he had Sue meld all versions of his autobiographical and other writings into what was the third and final version, Bob Capps: My 100 Years.  During the course of the writing of the three versions over the years,  he'd used yellow legal pads, 3×5 cards, pieces of paper torn off something else, whatever came to hand.  He had even cut legal pad pages apart and separated the bits and taped an additional paragraph or two into the space, written often on different paper.  I saw this pile of papers, with bits sticking out in several sizes and colors, in the fall after one of the Labor Day picnics – and I thought with a kind of writer's horror, who's gonna organize that?   And of course Sue did.
Each time her father presented her with a stack of papers, Sue helped give it order.  In this third major and as it turned out final version, Sue included the latest articles Uncle Bob had done for the Steele Creek News and his annual Christmas letters, all his writings collected into one book, with many photographs.  Sue did the transcribing, typing and editing, layout, research,  gathering photos, and desktop publishing.  It was a masterwork.  When it was finished, she took it to a Kinko's or somebody, to make a number of copies, somewhat over a hundred copies I think, with slick covers and a plastic binder spine.  Sue got it printed and bound and brought it down for the birthday weekend from Ohio to North Carolina in a couple of huge boxes.  She and Uncle Bob had worked on the list of possible recipients, with a few extra copies for sudden realizations that you'd left somebody off or when you rediscovered someone you hadn't expected.  At the big party in March 2011 Uncle Bob gave one to each of his 100th birthday guests or families.  He's a Capps, and Cappses re-invent customs; he thought giving presents to people on your own birthday was a great idea, and when better than your 100th!  Living a century somehow gives you license to do what you wish anyhow, of course.  Everyone was charmed and delighted, and what with the requests for, “Do you have an extra copy I could send to my daughter away at school?  She's always been a fan!” - well, nothing would do but to have an extra press run.  I'm not sure just how many copies of Bob Capps: My 100 Years were eventually printed and distributed, but there are quite a few out there, and they are treasured.  And God send that I can write with the same care and felicity as he did (only with my own style, of course).

In the spring of 2011, a few weeks after having gone to Uncle Bob’s 100th birthday in March, Ivan and I were visiting in South Carolina with Ivan’s kids for Ivan’s birthday weekend in April.  I was regaling JoAnn with my version of the events of that wonderful weekend in Charlotte with family.  I brought out my copy of Bob Capps: My 100 Years to share with her, telling her about his gift of a copy to each family who came to the birthday party.  JoAnn asked if she could have it to look at and skim.  Well, of course.  JoAnn started reading it at once.  She got about halfway through it that evening, getting into the parts about Uncle Bob's working life at General Motors and then with Buick; on Sunday she finished the rest.  She pushed herself a bit so I'd have the book to take home, otherwise, I think I'd have had to leave it there, in simple mercy, or stay there with it.  (I'd have elected to stay with it).  She thinks it’s wonderful.  And I told her, laughing, I’d have to start on mine, or face more suggestions from my children; indeed, their suggestions were not far from urgent petitions, and perhaps not very far from nagging.  Reid and Kay have been suggesting it strongly since they each got a copy of the first of the three versions of Uncle Bob’s autobiography when he was 90.  And then after the second one they mentioned it again.  I had already been thinking on it for some time.  I treasure life stories – or, as Cappses do it, life as stories.  And now with all of them having a copy of Uncle Bob’s book and pressuring me about it, I knew I needed to get serious and quit chuckling about the task as a Someday thing.  You don't want to mess with all my children when they seriously want to get something done and decide it’s my job to do it.  They have Capps blood too.

I wonder a bit about the timing, and I'm developing the particulars.  Uncle Bob set the path, of course.  He had started writing down his story quite some time ago, in those oddly assorted bits and pieces.  Shortly after he and Muriel moved into the Laurels, I think it was the Activities Director who asked Uncle Bob to write about something in particular to share with the residents, growing cotton perhaps.  He was one of the handful of really old people in their small community, and she knew him to be a walking local history, with a long memory of days and knowledge and ways of doing things that are otherwise almost gone, with a wealth of life experiences and a depth of understanding that would be a resource indeed, if he could write his stories as well as he could talk them.  And so she asked him for some article or maybe even proposed an occasional column for the in-house newsletter.   I don't know whether the specific request was for one or for a series of articles, or perhaps the first one went down so well, she asked for another.  Her name was (I think) Laura Blackwelder, and there's a lovely irony in that surname, so far as I'm concerned; that was my married name, 1957 to 1982, and my children are Blackwelders.  It was a risk; even people who speak fluently can be plodding on paper, and storytellers often aren't skilled equally in written and oral forms. 

Whatever the initial request, the first article was well-received, and was followed by others, and some of them became the inclusion of his annual Christmas letters, and there was not only a series of articles for the newsletter, there were even several articles for the Steele Creek Community News.  I think Miss Blackwelder was the one who initially contacted someone from the local paper.  Bob gathered many of the articles together, roughly connected them, and gave it to his daughter Sue to organize, and it became the first versionThis was about the time he was turning 90, and some of the family got a copy, as I remember, a stapled collection of pages.  Having begun to write down what he remembered, he continued to remember, and to write, and to send bits to Sue.  There was another more polished version, the collected and revised version of his writings between 90 and 10; I have that one in my hand, and it was What Makes Bob Tick? And the next line says, Includes Additional Memories from Along the Way, and it's dated 2007 on my copyThat one is a very beautifully self-published book, plastic binding, green covers.  Since I can't locate my copy of those first stapled pages from 2000, I'm working from the 2007 volume, and that puts What Makes Bob Tick the first, in 2000, and Along the Way, I think Sue says, came to her in 2004, and the two were then compiled into the 2007 volume.  With more stories to tell as he thought of things, as Uncle Bob approached 2011 and his 100th birthday that gave him an end goal time-line. 

Also in 2011, the year Uncle Bob turned 100 I turned 75 and Kay turned 50 (neat pattern, that),  and while I think I still have a long way to go and a long time to do it in, I also know there are no guarantees, and it's counter-productive to put things off until Someday.  I did that with quilting, and finally got to the point when I had to make Someday happen.  I comfort myself that it's not such a big job when you do the piece that's right in front of you, at any given moment, even of the biggest job. 
That's what Bob did.  When the request was made, he agreed to try it, and he got to
writing down things as he thought of them or as someone asked about some particular aspect of the old days – possum-hunting, or hoeing corn down on The Island, or what Christmas was like in the 1900s.  He got great feedback from anyone who read what he wrote, and he enjoyed it, so he kept doing it.  For the last several Christmases of his life, his Christmas cards have included a copy of one of his articles.  It was my great delight one year to find I'd received his re-telling of a Christmas in the 19-teens that was a significant Christmas I'd heard about from my mama years ago, so I had in my story-hoard two only slightly different versions of a much-loved story!  Do children still ask, “Mommy, what was it like when you were a little girl?”  We did, often, and she always responded with stories.  Some of them we heard often, and we liked to hear them over.  When a new one appeared, perhaps in response to a new question, we welcomed it.