I am ALMOST done with The Animal Kingdom thread – Posts #39 and #40 are on the way! As 2020 comes to an end, I’m starting a new thread on where some of my story characters originated.
As a writer I’m guilty of borrowing (okay: outright stealing) experiences of people I know. Some become vehicles for me to muse about the world. Years ago, my father and his girlfriend came to visit me in Germany. I couldn’t spend every day with them, so one morning I set them on a train to Trier. They spent all of that day with a stranger, an American who was working in Germany. When they finally parted ways, the last words the man said to them were “I love you guys.”
The man was African-American.
I thought about this story over and over after that visit. Dad told me, the train stopped on the tracks as railroad workers cleared away brush from a storm the night before. The train was stuck and the three of them sat for hours, swapping tales as they waited for the train to start moving again.
I loved my father dearly. He would talk to anyone, and he enjoyed meeting people and finding out about their lives. He is the example I hold up, to anyone who cares to listen, about how travel turns us all into better human beings. My dad saw most of the world after my mom died. They spent the last year of her life in Italy, and I like to think that his later travels were an homage to that final, wonderful year. After decades spent traveling, my father Bobbo, a pretty typical older white male, became truly worldly in his outlooks.
But, a black man who tells an old white couple that he loves them? What an extraordinary human being he must be.
As open as my father was, he had all the privileges of time and place and skin color. What fired my wonder and imagination was that a black man in this century would have the greatness of heart to tell white retired folks something so profound. Maybe it was the meeting of like-minded souls. Maybe it was the setting: a temporary encounter on a train in Germany, a country that continues to work hard to overcome prejudices.
Maybe at some point in his life he had made a conscious decision to take people as he found them. I wanted to put myself into his head and heart. I wanted to learn from him.
He is the kind of human being I aspire to be.
Can you tell that I was captivated and moved by my father’s story of this encounter? A decade later, when I finally (finally!!) became a writer, I discovered myself writing his story. His name is Gabe Burgess. He’s the head bartender at JJ’s Bistro in my first book Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Gabe spends time every year traveling the globe.
He has secrets.
Gabe has a tender heart.
He retains the memory of a terrible experience which has refused to fade.
And in the chapter titled Waiting, one year he meets an old white couple on a train that breaks down on the tracks outside of Trier….
NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2020.
In JJ’s, the bartender and a teenaged patron plan exotic trips. JJ’s chef meets several men who’d kill for her. Valuables and peace of mind literally get stolen. Couples celebrate, or split up. In a rainy night accidents happen and people vanish. These are the stories of people whose paths cross – or crash. The tales begin in a bistro and move on to Bangkok, a carnival midway, and the bottom of a lake, among other places. Broken In: whether totally random or according to plan, after tonight life will never be the same.
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