(The following is a story I 'grew up with', that influenced me in my
elementary school and junior high school days. But after the story, do
read the footnote.)
[A version of this story appeared in the Christian Science Monitor,
January 22, 2003. Their contract
requires that I take it down for 90 days. You can find it at
Footnote, August 2002:
Ah, the power of the internet! A few months after I put this story up, a relative of Georgia Lawson, using a search engine, found it -- and a daughter of one of Georgia Lawson's cousins got in touch with my mother, and then me. She was able to fill in a great many other details and tell us how far from accurate some details in our story were. The husband, Wilford Lawson, had actually been a professor at Tennessee State University in Nashville, where the W. W. Lawson Agriculture Building is now named after him. He named the farm they purchased near Boyds, after a long search, 'Dun Roamin'. The 'cinder block house' of my mother's tales was a nice old stone house that had fallen into disrepair, and the restoration began during Dr. Lawson's life but the window frames had not yet been installed when he was gored by the bull. While many of the details are inaccurate, the family member who spoke with me agreed that our family's version was a very accurate portrayal of the kind of time and place that it was, and I've decided to leave the story above unchanged since it was the story I heard, and not what had actually happened, that influenced my values. (Some changes may have been deliberate on my mother's part: my brother and I were in elementary school, and we -knew- that a dentist was well educated and respected; we probably weren't sure what a -college professor- was.)
This led to some good discussion at a 2002 meeting of the Society for Values in Higher
Education, on 'storytelling as a form of autobiography'. How much does one change the story for
effect? How does one warn the reader one is doing so. We agreed that one cannot deliberately
depart from the truth without letting the reader know.
To quote a teacher of mine: Q: "Is it a true story?" A: "Yes". Q: "Is that the way it really happened?" A: "What does that have to do with whether it is a true story?"
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