For me, with writing, I know a story will come. This is a gift my childhood gave me. And it’s because I lived close to the truth of things, participating in cycles of hard work and play, growth and incubation, camaraderie and isolation in a glorious setting. In the early 1970s, my parents bought an overgrown farming property facing the expanse of tidal salt water and marsh grass that is Bohicket Creek on Johns Island, South Carolina. The two-story clapboard house, about a hundred years old—vandalized beyond saving—was something akin to Daphne du Maurier’s Manderley, suffocating under a burden of kudzu, prettified by clusters of wisteria, and embraced on either side by two massive live oaks.
My father decided to pull down this bit of domestic Lowcountry history by tying a rope to a ceiling beam on the first floor and the other end to a tractor. I sat on the front of the tractor with my little sister for ballast (we were the two youngest of seven and presumably expendable <wink>). The rope tautened, and the Kubota snout rose in the air—for a few seconds I gripped my sister’s ribs hard and held my breath—and behind us came the low groans and dramatic pops of a house leveled. When the front wheels of the tractor thunked back to the ground, over my shoulder I marveled at incongruous angles of wood, tumbles of clay bricks exhaling clouds of mortar dust.
New history was to be made—our family’s story, you might say, crafted by my parents: to build a house of our own from those bricks and beams and settle on a rural sea island in the Lowcountry, where we would live against the grain of modern American suburban life.
Embedded in that narrative, I often could be found crouching in the dirt with hammer and chisel, goggles over my eyes, tapping slabs of lime mixed with sand off brick after brick. In addition to our daily quota of twenty-five to clean, we kids were required to spruce up an extra twenty-five when we sassed our parents, which I did often: I craved telling my story, however inelegantly, and I was willing to suffer for it. Yes, it was a laborious process revealing swirls of purple and red in those cool clay building blocks. But the unveiling of that beauty both soothed and stoked my rebellious heart, much the way writing does now.
These days when I look at the chimney rising in the center of my parents’ home, I remember that young girl torn between wanting to create her own story and grateful for the security of belonging to a larger one. I touch a brick. And another. And then another. I recall my own little Eden, where I learned to see and build.
It was there that I first caught glimpses of wholeness—of what Georgia’s own Flannery O’Connor might have called grace—when I danced before bonfires and floated with my siblings down the creek. Amid the fecund stink of pluff mud, I learned to rest in the cocoon of a sorry, wonderful world, to accept the reality of its brokenness, of my own, too, and my family’s—and to create anyway. On our dock I honed my instinct to launch, to arc away from familiar territory into the unknown. I grew to trust that my own stories would rise up like flowers, or a looming thunder cloud, inevitable, ever-changing.
I am too self-aware now to replicate my young self’s easy connection to what is, but I do try: sometimes it’s through a simple inhale and exhale of breath; other times, through Yo Yo Ma; still other times I hear a playful shout from that child who still exists deep within me, the one who wants to tromp through life.
Let’s see and hear, taste and feel the truth.
Let’s build, word upon word.
We can do nothing more than that as writers. And nothing less.
KIERAN WRAY KRAMER lives where she grew up, on Johns Island, a rural sea island near Charleston, South Carolina. She is a May 2018 graduate of the debut class at the College of Charleston MFA in creative writing program directed by Bret Lott and won the 2018 MFA Fiction Prize.
Kieran Wray Kramer’s story “Bubbles Here” will be in the forthcoming Lost & Found double issue, now available to pre-order for $8.