Friday, February 12, 2021

You Can Do Anything with Narrative Except Create Life

There’s no reason to take an interest in Edward Bush, beyond that he disappeared. One day in 1915, he said he was going out for cigarettes and never came back. His wife, who never remarried, lived on for another three decades and died refusing to say anything more about him. His abandoned eight-year old daughter grew up, married stably, raised three sons, one severely disabled, and lived to eighty-nine herself without ever forgiving her absent father, rarely mentioning his name. As teenagers, her sons thought they’d found out from her—from a slip of the tongue or a bitter remark about a letter, perhaps—that he was living in Nova Scotia. But they never wangled an address or any further information. At some point, the man had to have died. Later, more than one great-grandchild also tried, with the aid of genealogical services, to find information about him, but they never could. His name remained a blank stump, a branch broken close to the trunk. One tiny photograph of him, a headshot portrait probably taken not long before his marriage in 1905, remains: generically handsome in the style of the period, a dark-haired, brush-mustached young man with pale skin and a good chin, Edward Bush, ne’er-do-well carpenter, vanished husband and father, no known prior family, no hand-me down anecdotes, an almost untraceably common name. There’s no reason to take an interest in him, other than that he was my great-grandfather and he disappeared. There’s your bedtime story. Night-night, dear.

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