Sterling Bridge: Writing Historical Fiction (Part Two)

How do our life dramas relate to common struggles of humanity?

With my parents away on a trip to Europe to visit my mom’s parents, my dad’s parents were at our mercy. We boys had been respectful of the neighborhood to a fault, despite feeling our good nature was being taken advantage of by bullies. Our parents wouldn’t let us get away with pushing back and their parents believed we were already the problem. While our parents were away we decided we were going to mete out some justice of our own and take back the neighborhood. We had built the tree house forts, after all. We chased the occupants out. The next day their mom was talking to our half-blind grandpa to which he honestly replied, “Woman, I didn’t see a thing. Did you?” Knowing she wasn’t getting very far with that she bribed us with chocolate to keep the peace. My older brother gets upset to this day that I took the chocolate…haha. What can I say? If you know me, you know I am a sucker for chocolate.

We liked playing in the park. We told the troubled teens hanging out there to go tell their mommies if they weren’t big enough to keep us out themselves. We outnumbered them. They decided they could go smoke somewhere else.

And then there was Ricky and Nicky. They had been destroying the dirt hills that we rode our bikes on. It was time to ambush them. As soon as they thought we were gone we doubled back through the woods. Sure enough they were digging booby traps for the next unsuspecting biker. We popped up on either side of them and they were caught in the crossfire of dirt clods. Of course, they told their parents it was rocks and that they were just innocently riding their bikes on the hills. Those parents decided to tell their kids to fight their own battles. Nicky pulled off his shirt and put up his fists. A circle was formed around him and me, being that I was the oldest I guess. I mocked him to scorn, laughing at his belly fat. I couldn’t take him seriously and he went away crying.

These were three territorial battles I learned from, one way or another. Each is uniquely different. Yet, when I hear about similar stories I have these reference points for understanding some of the emotions involved in the equation in common with the rest of humanity. We all have to learn to deal with sharing our world’s and living with one another.

Do I feel bad for any of my part in such untoward behavior? Yes, of course I do. Is my description accurate? You be the judge, but I think a perspective more honestly captures reality when it reflects both the good and bad that all individuals in the story are wrestling with, while telling it from the viewpoint with the most researched details. Should I be as open about my past, especially mistakes? Maybe not. There is something to be said about not revisiting our past wrongdoings. But then again, we all are imperfect and we can learn from each other’s errors. Once we overcome a failing we can only accentuate the success if we are willing to recognize the obstacle that preceded it. And most of all, should I be worried if the way I tell the story accidentally puts me in a bad light in others’ minds? Perhaps, but I choose not to let how others perceive something, define who I am or even who I was, nor can it change who I am really, unless I let it dissuade or motivate me.

How does “Sterling Bridge” compare to other historical fiction portrayals?

If you recall, in “Sterling Bridge,” I included well-documented historic rock fights between the youth on the E(ast) Street boundary of Old Town, Tooele. That said, how exactly that went down is still anyone’s guess. I knew there were disputes about letting persons from New Town frequent shops and I knew the paperboy’s news was literally spread all over town, at least according to what was recorded from several witnesses. So I used it all and tied it all together with a bow by inserting the made-up record breaking occurrence. If you compare the infighting among neighborhood kids to my own experience with a dirt clod territorial war, Ricky and Nicky’s version will be very different from mine, just as I’m sure many in Tooele noted the rock fighting slightly amiss. Do the boys from my past remember those days? What details stand out to them? These things would all be advantageous to know in order to get the full story, however, stories are usually told from one angle. I’m not planning on rewriting “Sterling Bridge,” from a different POV like Orson Scott Card did with “Enders Game,” for example.

I believe an honest reading of “Sterling Bridge” will amount to a fair interpretation of the characters and of me. I know I did my best to make a great story with universal appeal and do the real story justice with relation to preserving its local charm at the same time. To date, I would safely say it is the best story put to the page so far that has come from any revisiting of said incidents. If put in the same situation I believe many of us would have behaved in much the same way. We would have struggled being in the middle of a conflict of no fault of our own. However, at the end of the day these are exemplary people who showed us how to overcome our biases, our disagreements, and misunderstandings. As near as I can tell they, members of Sterling’s teams, all went on to do good things in their lives. The people of Tooele can be proud of what that group did, and the greater community that supported and came together themselves. For me, they represent the best in all of us as a society and what we are capable of doing when facing today’s similar challenges. In the end, every true-to-life story worth telling should have such a great moral, theme, and outcome.

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