Why We Read … Why I Write


This old portrait has hung in our house for decades. We call him “The Sentinel” and like to think he’s keeping watch over the homestead. As a teenager, I rescued him from under a squirrel nest in our old shed. At first, I knew nothing about him. He wasn’t one of my military ancestors, and the old timers in our neck of the woods didn’t know what to make of him, either.

I started digging. My great-grandfather had written the soldier’s name on the back (Tom Williams), and that was enough to get started. Tom was a Native American neighbor whose abandoned shack was still visible on our family property when I was a kid. Tom had a story that I began to get bits and pieces of over the years.

As a proud Ottawa (or Odawa as they prefer to be called), Tom grew up dirt poor in Northern Michigan. So, he joined the US Army around the turn of the previous century, served as far afield as the Philippines, and went to war with my grand-father in France in 1917. Later, when they became gray-haired neighbors, Tom and my grandfather would work together at opposite ends of a two-man cross-cut saw tending their shared orchard. Tom and his family had a story worth telling, but it almost became a forgotten memory.

I mention Tom’s story here because I realize that I may be one of only a handful of people on earth who know anything about the Williams family. A life of curiosity about those who have come before us drives me to write about the nooks and crannies of history and the unsung lives of people who have made our world what it is today. I believe that keeping the past and its people in mind — even if only in fiction — makes us a richer people than if we simply choose to let the past slip away.

If you care about keeping our neighbors, ancestors, and history alive through story, then I invite you to join me here online and in your email inbox on a regular basis to share and discuss how an appreciation for the past enriches our present lives …

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