Voice is what this story is about.
Pay particular attention to who is speaking. This story is written in first-person, but it surely is not the author doing the telling. Speech characteristics say something about the life and times of the character telling the story.
The way this story is told also gives the reader an idea of the versatility of the writing voice of the author.
In Grandpappy’s Cows, I took characteristics from some of my long-gone country relatives to flesh out my characters. I borrowed some characteristics when writing family history to use here.
This story is, by no means, the way my family lived. Yet, if you knew my extended family, ancestors, family tree, and particularly the voice of these people, you’d be able to identify characteristics from some of us that contributed to the story people.
Too, if you knew me, you’d also know that the creation of Grandpappy’s Cows is a run-away effort that not only borrowed from writing family history, but also allowed my silly Muse free reign. In still other stories, I believe my Muse picked up some of the voice of this piece!
This story was fun to write. Writing tall tales let me exaggerate the character’s personalities and voice. The writing of it was a lesson in how to more fully flesh out those who peopled the plot. It also allowed me to try creating a dialect much different than I’m used to portraying in my stories.
When reading this story, ask yourself:
What does the voice tell me about these characters?
When you get to the ending and have had time to absorb the plot (maybe you get it all along) - Do I see the metaphor?
Could I create a story with an Aha! ending? A reason for the reader to still think about the story after the reading is completed? Even if all they do is shake their heads in disbelief?
Notice how incorrect grammar is used to emphasize a manner of speaking, that enhances the flavor of the story.
Can I still see the writer’s voice through the total composition?
Do I see how writing family history can make for an interesting story?
Some points to watch for in Grandpappy’s Cows are…
How each family member offers something different
The different ways each member looks out for another depending on what they have to offer
How the main character’s life is molded, depending to whom she turns for guidance.
Grammy and Grandpappy had fifteen youngins of their own, so I had a mess o’ cousins. Most of the boys looked the same, with straggly dirty blonde hair and mean squinty eyes. We girls was better. We looked different from one another by our hair color and size of our bosoms.
Grandpappy moved lots of us to a run-down trailer park near the railroad tracks. Him and Grammy lived in a doublewide next to the meadow ‘cause they kept a milk cow.
As neighbors moved out, more of our kin moved in. No matter the trailers was abandoned ‘cause they was old, we was a family that stuck together. Pretty soon our kin took over every useable trailer in that danged weed-infested field. The poor folk thought we was rich.
Everyone who visited asked to go see the rest of them empty trailers. I sneaked and seen ‘em already and they was empty, except for some mattresses the hobos left behind.
When I asked why my uncles always brought their girlfriends around to inspect those old trailers when they went out on dates, Grandpappy said, “They just want to bless our new home.” Then he’d slap his knee and bellow till his eyes watered and he started to coughin’. He never let me go see with the other people and got downright nasty when I tried. “You stay put, Li’l Girlie,” he said. “There’s time enough to learn about life.”
My daddy was a jack-of-all-trades and him and Grandpappy joined some of them trailers so’s you could walk from one to another without goin’ outside. When friends come over for some honky-tonkin’, those old trailers would rock and once the rotted tires exploded on one of ‘em.
Effie May was my closest cousin. She was older ‘n me. The boys said she was built like a cow. Sometimes when they headed off to the trailers, they said they was gonna go milk the cows. Like it was a dirty joke or somethin’. Effie May hung out with the boys a lot. She said they was her kissin’ cousins.
One day, Effie May whispered to me, “They calm my yearnins, ya’ know?”
I didn’t know. I saw her and cousin Wilma Lou, who my momma told me to stay away from, go in and out of them abandoned trailers on the other side of the park with a bunch of boys time and again. Effie May was awful smart, said she knew how to be of service to folks. She always had money.
But me? I didn’t want to be nobody’s servant. Me and my momma was close. I was blonde-headed like the rest of my kin, but my hair picked up some of my momma’s red. I liked her the most, better ’n Effie May, ‘cause Momma explained things to me.
As we kids was growin’ up, I guess Grandpappy thought he still had to feed the whole brood. One day after Grammy gave away the old cow that dried up, he come home with another.
“I’m tired of sittin’ around all day shaking the cream to the top of that jar just to make butter,” Grammy said.
“Well, we cain’t afford the store-bought stuff yet either,” Grandpappy said.
Johnny Jeb was one cousin always up to no good. He used to squeeze the cow’s udder so we could drink when we got thirsty while we was playin’. He’d squirt us just to be mean.
We was lucky Grandpappy never knowed what the soggy stains was on our clothes and why leaves stuck in our hair ‘cause sometimes after getting pushed in, we swam in the creek with our clothes on and he couldn’t tell the difference.
“You grandkids are dirtier ’n my own ever was,” he would say. “And to think you live better off today.”
Some of my aunts and uncles took a broom to their kids for coming home dirty. My momma just smiled and poured water into the old tin tub, throwed me a bar of Grammy’s lye soap, and said, “You soak good now, Darlin’.”
Grandpappy couldn’t figure out why the cow didn’t give much milk. He was attached to Bossie, his latest cow, and instead of getting rid of her, he brung home another. Johnny Jeb loved that. He taught cousin Bobby Zeke to squirt and they had milk fights in the meadow. When the rest of us got to laughin’, we all learned to squirt.
Grandpa got a third cow just so’s he could get enough milk together for all our families every day. Anyway, between the three, they kept the weeds down real good. But it stunk some and the boys was put to scrapin’ up the cow-pies and tossin’ ‘em into an empty field. Us girls stayed away from them dung fights.
Later on, when I started thinkin’ about boys, I looked in the mirror to see what they was a-winkin’ at. My bosoms finally growed like Effie May’s. My kin said I wasn’t bad looking and my hair always shined like sunlight.
“Why’d you s’pose that is?” I asked my momma one day.
“Musta’ been all that fresh cream you got in your hair when you was a kid,” she said.
I never knew she knowed. I have a right smart image of my momma now that I know she let us kids enjoy the fun we had back then. I looked at her real hard ‘cause I admired her more all of a sudden. Her brassy hair was so shiny.
My daddy said I matured real nice. He always paced around lookin’ at me like I was the chunk of gold that was gonna make him rich or somethin’. I wondered if him and Momma would let me go honky-tonkin’. Effie May said she could tell me how to take care of my yearnins.
Below are comments by one reader of the story. Evidently the voice of the piece cinched it for her.
"What a HOOT! Now you’ve made me laugh. Guess you inherited your mother's sense of humor. This very good and entertaining story could be one chapter of a book about this family’s ongoing adventures. By the way, you did a terrific job on the dialect. Mary, write on. I love reading your stuff."
~ Elizabeth Sullivan, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, Somerset, CA
When writing family history, make no mistake. You can turn both hilarity and tragedy into meaningful stories.
You can project a new writer’s voice through your story telling.
In writing, use voice to give your stories a new slant. But voice is not just about the accents of the characters. Voice is about how you, the author, express yourself, what you say when you write your stories.
Particularly with writers of fiction, we can borrow from our own immense banks of experience to create our stories.