Tuesday, June 12, 2012

PEnnsylvania Post 1000

This is my 1000th Post. I warn you, it may get a little long.

I have two abiding memories of my paternal Grandfather: he was huge (it took two extra pallbearers to carry the coffin at his funeral, when my son was less than a year old) and he loved Glenn Miller. As a child one of the first cassettes I remember owning, apart from the Hits of Walt Disney, was 'Glenn Miller, A Memorial 1944-1969' and for a long time I believed the man whose songs I still love to this day died when I was three. That was until I was told a story.

I should point out that my memory as a kid is sporadic at best. As I've worked on my writing over the last year I've made an effort to try and go back and remember with better clarity but there are large chunks of my life that simply don't exist in enough detail. This incident however persists and it makes me think that as a result it might actually have happened as I remember it. My paternal grandparents lived in a small council house in the town where I was born, and we would visit them weekly until my dad got a job that meant we moved away. Then the visits would become more sporadic: I can still remember being able to sneak into the pantry of their kitchen to steal sugar cubes to suck, a sofa that always smelt funny and the day on one of those trips that my Grandad told me he had seen Glenn Miller the day he disappeared.

Miller played his last concert on August 27th 1944 at RAF Twinwood Airfield in Bedfordshire, an event my Grandfather claimed to have seen and which, he said, had affected him greatly for the rest of his life. I know that he was attending Glenn Miller Orchestra concerts up until my grandmother died, and it was an obsession to him that I can only now fully begin to comprehend. However, it was on December 15th 1944 that Miller left Twinwood for the last time, where he had been based since arriving in the UK, in a single-engined UC-64 Norseman, USAAF serial 44-70285. He is still listed as 'missing in action' to this day, though there have been various theories as to his demise. My Grandfather told me that cold and misty morning he'd seen the plane leave, and that Miller's disappearance had made him desperately sad ever since.

I am aware that my maternal grandfather served in North Africa during World War Two, but I have never checked the validity of this particular story. The problem with Big Grandad you see was simple: he loved to spin tall tales. He could lie with such conviction, and with such embellishment, and he often did. He once kept a commercial aeroplane on the ground for an hour whilst the cabin crew searched for the dog they could hear, which was infact him barking. There was a not lot to like about him (I discovered) as I got older but this story remained untainted, untouched, and for a long time I couldn't work out why. I also went through a period of believing that lying about yourself is a great way to be more popular, until I was hit by the harsh realisation that if you tell enough lies, it becomes impossible to work out what is actually real any more.

That is when I first grasped that the truth makes the best stories, and that the only way to have a history is to create one for yourself. When I finally saw 'The Glenn Miller Story' in my 20's the last scenes were worryingly reminiscent of the one my Grandfather had painted and only then did it occur to me that he could have fabricated the entire thing as entertainment. It would be easy enough to check the validity of his claims even now, but I remain reticent to do so. The tale of the tale has become another story in itself. Whenever I think of my Grandfather I find myself thinking of the film 'Big Fish' and that, like it or not, his influence has become a large part in the shaping of my own life as a writer.

I've spent 1000 posts talking (in the main) about one subject that makes me happy, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who's come here to read, to comment, and to join me on the first steps of what I hope will be a long and exciting journey. I come from a family of storytellers, after all, so I'll do my best to keep you entertained with the truth as I see it.

After all, you can't beat a good story :D


Jonathan said...

Sometimes the story is more important than the facts (or lack thereof) behind it.

PS I had that Walt Disney hits cassette as well. :-)

CATS said...

Big Fish is a great movie!

Also my grandmother loved Glenn Miller, she met one of the musicians and had kind of a crush on him ever since and collected Glenn Miller records. (which wasn´t hard given my father/her son is a record collector...)

Kamalia said...

Grats on an impressive blogging milestone!

I'm a fan of Glenn Miller's music, too, from my Mom, who might have gotten it from her mom. :)