Stories In Old Attics

I was the kind of kid who happily sat with my grandmothers (both born in 1913) as they spun  tales of life growing up in Toronto in the twenties, surviving the Great Depression and World War II, becoming newlyweds in the thirties and young mothers in the forties.

With one Irish-Canadian grandmother and one French-Canadian grandmother, I learned my bard skills. I’m so grateful that both women lived into their mid-eighties and by the time they passed, we had clocked hundreds of storytelling hours together. (My first novel, safely stored in the bottom drawer of my desk and sadly not likely to see the light of day, was set in early twentieth century Toronto and loosely based on one grandmother’s life.)

Unfortunately, I know less about my grandfathers and their lives. Although my paternal grandmother was able to tell me where my Canadian born grandfather had lived as a child, his passing at age forty-eight meant I would never hear him tell about servicing in the Canadian Air Force during WWII or anecdotes from his life that only he would know.

My Scottish grandfather was killed in a work-related accident when I was eleven and at the time of his death, he had just begun to see me as a person rather than another noisy kid. One of my last memories of him was of sitting on the front porch and listening as he told me how he left his family’s Highland farm at the age of sixteen in search of a new adventure and of his plans to farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. As luck would have it, his arrival in Saskatchewan coincided with the harsh and unrelenting draught of the Great Depression and his new farmland refused to yield a decent crop. He died before he shared with me why he hadn’t simply packed up and returned to Scotland, but instead found his way back east to Toronto.

After his death, and knowing how we had begun to connect through his stories of the old country, my grandmother took me and my oldest cousin to visit his birthplace; Muir of Ord, Rosshire, Scotland. Every fibre of the romantic storyteller in me tingled the moment I clapped eyes on the centuries old farmhouse where generations of my family had lived, worked and died.

If only those walls could talk!

What foods did my great-grandmothers prepare in their kitchens? How many children were born in the upstairs rooms with the sloped ceilings? What thoughts ran through the men’s minds as they peered out those small windows cut into the roof? What conversations were had around the fireplaces? What good times and what bad times were played out behind the front door? Why had Grandpa left?

This past week, my sister made the pilgrimage to Muir of Ord and shared this picture of the Murchison farmhouse. Tonight, I find myself staring at the photo and am bombarded with the flood of a thousand stories waiting to be told using this farm as my setting.

I’ve asked before, where do you find stories ideas? Lately, I’m finding many of my ideas are coming from settings that pop out at me.

Has a real setting ever offered you a story idea? Do share.


Filed under Writer's blog, Writer's journey, writing,

4 responses to “Stories In Old Attics

  1. Joy

    Port Perry for me has been the setting of my 2 books and in the second one I wrote a poem titled Attic Of Dreams……Loved this blog as it describes my family as well…..Scottish,Irish descent for me though but a Grandma who would tell me so many stories of her life when her parents came from Edinborough……..

  2. You are so lucky to have been close to both grandmothers. One of mine was distant and just not a presence in my life; the other was still raising children when I was a kid.

    Great picture of the old farmhouse. I have to say that, thus far, I have received inspiration from older stories and not settings per se. However, I did travel to Ireland to research my first novel and found no end of motivation in those green hills.

  3. suzanne robinson

    You are a very rich lady in so many ways — family past and present. My grandparents were long gone before I was born, my mother missing in action due to mental illness and my father who was 56 when I was born was more like a taciturn grandfather to me. As you know I have culled knowledge of them from other relatives. I would love to hear some of your grandmothers’ stories. Ccan you image this as a freefall writing exercise???

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