One Child's Triumph Against the Odds
Larry’s life was ebbing away. We all knew it, and he knew it. His kidneys were packing up. We visited him as often as we could. He sat in his raised chair, his legs stretched out on the rest, talking quietly, and drifting in and out of sleep.
He talked of little things. Things that amused him, and things he liked to dwell on. Then he said he did have one regret. That he hadn’t finished his book. At the time, I was writing a book of my own. I was intrigued, and asked him to tell me more.
He had made a number of attempts to write up recollections of his childhood. Eventually, I got to see them. There was a small bundle of typed pages, together with some handwritten notes. I began to read through them. Quickly I was drawn in to the world of his childhood, and to its overwhelming sense of despair.
Here was a dark but compelling story. I imagined how much more of it there must be, not on any pages, but in the vivid memory of the ailing man sat across the room from me, with his eyes closed, and the sunlight dancing across his pale face.
It was going to be a race against time. Not only did I want all the story from him, but I also wanted to get it written up for him to read while he still could. I wanted to help him make peace with this haunting past.
So we sat for hours, sometimes in the lounge, but at other times while he was propped up in bed. First I scribbled notes as rapidly as I could. Later, I let a tape recorder take the strain. It was if we had, between us, unleashed a torrent. Of words and of tears.
He jumped from one incident to another. The pictures were detailed and vivid. His descriptions took me to his places. The characters paraded in front of me. I worked to give everything form and context. The process tired him, so we did it in stages. On days while he rested, I took his own writing, and his recorded recollections, and wove them into text. To start with, most of what I had covered his four years in the Pigeon House. I researched the history of the place and found photographs. These helped build the complete picture in my mind. In this way, the central chapters were soon drafted. They went back to Larry for his comments and suggestions.
Next, we needed to turn to his life before the Pigeon House years, and those after, before he finally made his escape to England. Gradually we pieced together the material for these years too. With this I could add the drafts for the earlier and later chapters. We had to check a lot of information with the family.
These chapters went through a fair amount of redrafting, until we were all happy that everything was correct. From that first comment about his one regret, to the point where I was able to place in his hands a complete draft took five weeks. By then his eyes were failing and reading was too difficult. Shirley sat with him and read it out loud. He heard it all, and approved it.
His book was written. His mind found greater peace. And we all prepared for our final farewell.