Canada Writes is currently hosting a competition called Bloodlines, judged by Lawrence Hill, where writers are invited to share stories/lore/anecdotes from their family archives.

nanaI thought immediately about the Wild West stories my grandmother told, but could only recall spotty details. For instance, all I remember of a tale she often told about her brother was the punchline, which went something like this: “Woot ’em! Woot ’em with your wix wooter!” Or something equally unintelligible. I don’t recall who or what was to be shot, but my guess was that the juvenile cry to arms didn’t match the urgency and severity of the situation. That in itself does not a story make. My grandmother was a Texas belle; one of the ten prettiest girls in El Paso, I heard on more than one occasion – there had been a parade having something to do with the Mason Dixon line and she rode in a float of those pretty girls. But when I researched the aforesaid “line” I discovered that it was nowhere near El Paso, and has more to do with Yankees and Confederates than with pretty girls in Texas. I’m assuming now that the parade was likely in celebration of the end of the Civil War. But I don’t know. Nana is long gone and so is my father, along with anyone who might be able to shed light on these broken bits of story.

In one of the crumbling leather photograph albums handed down to me from my father, was one picture featuring two men standing on wooden sidewalk wearing very shallow cowboy-style hats. One man had a dark handlebar moustache and small beady eyes. He wore a sheriff’s star, and a watch chain swung across his striped vest. That was the infamous Pat Garrett with my great grandfather, Benjamin Shields Catlin. Because of this photograph I always imagined my grandfather a very important person. However… My great Grandfather was the deputy clerk of El Paso for many years. When I scanned historical documents I found that he had pneumonia a few times and went to visit his sister when she was ill. Fascinating stuff.

Then up popped some information on Benjamin Shields Catlin II, my grandmother’s brother, Uncle Ben. Now here was a guy with a story! I recalled the day he came to visit his nephew’s (my dad) family in Montreal, years after his rich flying career ended.

Because I don’t have all the facts, ma’am, I decided to write it as I remembered. He drove a big fancy Cadillac and we all posed for pictures taken with his fancy camera. I began there. With a little editorial assistance from the participants of Sue Reynolds’ Sanctuary day of writing, Sue herself and my dear friend Barbara Bergen who has a very keen copy-editing eye, I put together a story written from my six-year-old perspective.

It can be read on the CBC Canada Writes Site: Benjamin Catlin/Bloodlines, but you may have to click through several entries to get to it.

I find it remarkable how much can be conveyed in fewer than 500 words.  I’ve read through many of the submitted stories, and have been touched, moved, and delighted by all the memories and engaging tales there. What treasures!