Family Friday: The Boot

My family and its history is a huge influence on the things I write. Each Friday, I take a look at some of the research or real life that’s inspired my make-believe.

I don’t remember when I found the article, but I do remember how it made me feel. It was the first instance, in my quest to uncover my ancestry, where I really understood that there was more information to be found than simply when people died and when they were born. There were stories to be found, too. There might not be many of them, but there were some.

The details are what struck me. For such a concise paragraph, there is a lot to unpack. The writer didn’t leave it at, “Leonard Clark was lost at sea.” No, we got explicit details about how it was determined that he was truly lost, and not just missing.

Lost overboard, Nov. 13, off Race Point, from sch Minna, of Harwich, Mr. Leonard Clark, of Harwich, aged 28 years. He has left a wife and six children. The man’s foot, boot and stocking, the latter marked LC, (which drifted ashore early in December, near Provincetown,) belonged to Mr. C. His wife identified the mark on the stocking.

It’s such a haunting story, and so macabre if viewed the right way. Think about it: his wife had to identify the stocking! How long did she run her fingers over the stitches before nodding to tell them that yes, this was his? Did it still smell of him? Did the people who brought it to her still have the foot, or had they disposed of it by then? Did she keep any of these things? Is his foot what they buried, wherever his grave is? I know that he was buried somewhere in Harwich, though I’ve yet to find an extant grave.

So many questions, so many possible tales to tell.

The death of my 4th great grandfather has become a defining moment in the shared universe that most of my fiction takes place in. It’s a central plot point in “The Tale of Old Silas” (from All He Left Behind) and the eponymous piece of footwear from “The Boot”—yep, you guessed it.

And this is just one of the stories I’ve uncovered along the way. Stay tuned for more.