Sounder, by William H. Armstrong, is one of my top five favorite books of all time. It impacted me deeply as a child by bringing me to a time and a circumstance I’d never known before. And once I entered in, it never let me go.
It’s about a boy and his father who is in prison, their dog, injustice, and education. It is also about love and loss and loyalty and time. On one level it is a very simple story – father goes away, father is loved and missed, father comes home.
But it is much deeper than that – it is about the passage of time; the permanence of the bond between a father and his child; and the ache – and even the painful growth - that can happen when they are separated. Ultimately, fatherhood creates a relationship that can never be broken, no matter the time that goes by, no matter the lost years, no matter the pain.
Another of my all-time top five books is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Strangely enough, here too the father is missing and his daughter desperately longs for him to return.
Hmmm, two out of five of my all-time favorite books are about absent fathers. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why my own first book is about the grandfather that I never knew. My grandfather died when my dad was only 16 years old, and the fact of his death early in my father’s life has always been a tender spot for me. My father has been so important in my own life, it is hard for me to imagine how hard it must have been for my dad to lose his father so early.
It’s also been a source of sadness to me that I never got the chance to meet my grandfather. All my life, I’ve seen the love in my father’s eyes whenever he mentions his dad. I think my grandfather must have been quite a person. Maybe he’s where I got my nose, or my hair, or some of my, um, more mischievous qualities!
But in writing How To Stop a Moving Train, I think I was able to bridge the sadness of not knowing my grandfather by “meeting” him, in a sense, as I created the character – W.P. -- that bears so many of the qualities I imagine he had. And in getting to know him, I’ve found that I not only miss him – I love him, too.