Finding my father’s voice took help from friends.
I’ve been part of Wordsmiths, a small writer’s group in Puyallup, for about 18 months and I may not have found Webster Warren Bateman’s voice without them.
Dad died in 1997 at age 86. I knew my dad as a jovial fellow, who liked to play pranks, dance my mom around the kitchen, smoke, joke and drink whiskey. He was always in charge or attempting to be. That came from years of running construction crews, operating heavy equipment and driving long haul trucks. It used to drive me crazy as an adult when he would tell me how to back out of my own driveway – and offer much more in the way of uninvited advice.
When he retired from his last job as Superintendent of one-third of the Benton County Washington roads – I always got a kick out of the 1/3 part – he became Mayor of Benton City. It’s a map dot in Southeastern Washington on the way to the Tri-Cities. His position as Mayor included late night calls when the storm drains got plugged. He was up for it. He was the big fish in a little pond.
As a child I thought of him as a hero because he built dams, re-routed railroad tracks, and drove trucks carrying bombs for Uncle Sam along the Alcan Highway in Alaska when there were no paved roads. He was in charge and we moved a lot. I attended 13 grade schools.
I didn’t think about who Webb was, his motivations, thoughts, desires – he was just my dad. The experiences of his youth were stories he told at parties.
My draft of the first chapter in Cat Skinner was diplomatically, but brutally critiqued. “Would your father have pleaded with his mother for assistance? From what we know of your dad, he was usually giving orders. Who’s speaking here? Are you sure that’s not your voice instead of your dad’s?” Webb was coming across as too nice.
Getting into Webb’s character – finding his voice – meant setting aside the child-parent relationship and putting on his work shirt and high-water work pants. Must admit, I’m still getting used to work boots, smoking Chesterfields, shootin’ pool, swinging a sledge hammer, and ensuring a familiar spicy warmth – from lips to belly – with a quick backward tip of my head.