From the fall of ’77 to about 1985, Gabi and I published a weekly newspaper called Persons and then a statewide arts magazine called Mississippi Arts & Letters. For the newspaper, I wrote a weekly column that consisted mostly of family stories—retelling things that happened in my childhood. When we had family gatherings at my parents’ house, some of my stories would inevitably come up, and inevitably someone in the family would say, “That’s not the way I remember it.” My twin brother was the worst. He always told the same stories, almost exactly the same, except in his version he did the funny things I did in my version. We’re identical twins, and especially when we were young hardly anybody could tell us apart. Twin stories were favorites.
Like the time the family went to dinner at Mike’s Restaurant in Tupelo. Bill and I were about eight years old. We always finished before anybody else, and we’d go out front and play, checking back every once in a while to see if everybody else was through. Bill or I (I confess I don’t know which) came back to the table, and Mother said, “Go get your brother and tell him it’s time to go.”
Whichever of us it was headed out and stopped in front of the full-length mirror by the door and said to the mirror, “Come on. Mama said it’s time to go.”
Once when Gabi’s mother was visiting along with some of my siblings, we were talking about some of my stories and, as usual, somebody said, “That’s not the way it happened.”
My reply was, “They’re my memories. Don’t mess with my memories.”
Gabi’s mother, Naomi, asked, “Alec, when are you going to write something about me?”
I said, “I’m waiting until you die, Naomi,” and I was surprised that she was quite pleased with that.
Many years passed before I finally put her in one of my novels. She inspired the character Bitsey Ashton in Return to Freedom. Bitsey was an alcoholic with a history of being wild and reckless. Naomi was no longer alive, so she couldn’t complain about how I depicted the character based on her.