The Best Part of a Story Is When It Changes

My mom died. It is a strange feeling being an orphan at my age. I am uncomfortable with the void I feel. I talked to her every day for the last twenty-three years. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer in January. Four months later, gone. One of my best fans, gone. Of course, I knew her condition was terminal. But I wasn’t ready when she decided to let go.

Today I scrub gray gunk off the cabinet doors, light-switch plates, and door jambs in her house. Twenty-three years removed. It feels strange to wipe away my mother’s fingerprint layers. Lysol cleaner is effectively erasing her physical evidence.

A part of me wants nothing to change. Do we rent my mother’s house or sell it? I wonder if this is what happens in other families. I am comforted in knowing my experience is not unique, though I feel it so. Fortunately, Mom leaves a legacy, including an autobiography. Though our lives are now altered, her story will endure.

My Little family effectively buried my uncle Frank Little, rudely murdered before he turned forty years old. I spent years uncovering his life, excavating family memories and stories, rare details in order for others to know him. His death changed labor, and eventually he was provided a tombstone, marking his purpose in life. I compare him to my father, whose ashes disappeared after his second wife died. Even my memories of him are even getting vague. Dad’s life story will be gone within two generations.

I discover Death was the purveyor of change in Jane Street’s life, the subject of my next book. Her life’s direction veered West after losing her parents and became an early advocate for women. Though Jane kept a filing system in which she journaled her thoughts almost every day of her life, another family member trashed it, deciding her words were of little value. Like Frank, I am digging to uncover Jane’s life.

It’s the same in the Boedeker family. Too many untimely deaths, including Mary Bratek Boedeker, Bump’s wife. Mary died in an institution in Evanston, Wyoming, after she lost her mind to Huntington’s disease. I cannot find her photo. None of her descendants have offered her up. Was her life’s story buried? Mary was only 51 when she died, a year after her eldest daughter was killed. Did Mary know?

Catherine Boedeker was so beautiful, that if there had been a beauty contest, she would have won Miss Dubois—or so Don Ricks tells me. Four or five teenagers driving around, sober and sedate, her boyfriend at the wheel. He pulled off the highway, intending to turn around and go back to Dubois. A rear wheel slipped off the road, and the car did a slow roll down the bank. Though no one else was hurt, nineteen-year-old Catherine died instantly. I bury my thoughts in another family’s tragedy.

Jane Little Botkin