Coming To Terms With My Grandmother’s Ghost:
Why I wrote the The Inevitable Past
Carrie Jane Knowles
I am the grandmother you never knew. The one who vanished. The unsolved crime.
I never held your father in my arms. Only in my heart. But I was with him every step of his life.
As I am with you.
I am your blue eyes and your fair skin: a flutter, a thought, a whisper. I use dreams to guide you over the rough spots my life has created for you.
My dreams are your dreams. I am part of you. What happened to me the night your father was born has shaped your life. I rest deep in your DNA.
I cannot change that. I wish I could. My experiences have made you slow to trust. Shadows make your heart race. I know.
But the good of me is in you as well. You are strong because I was strong. You fight back. You speak your mind. You have courage and are curious. You are smart like your father. You are the best of me.
It is time for you to know who I was and who you are because of all that happened. And why I have come to you.
I need your help.
This is the first page of my novel, The Inevitable Past. They are the words of the grandmother in the book. My grandmother, my father’s mother, who has haunted me my whole life.
When I wrote these first few words, I felt like I had opened a door into a world of secrets I had been avoiding all my life.
The Inevitable Past is part story I was told about my grandmother when I was a child, part dreams, part truth, and part fiction.
Before I began writing this book, all I knew about my father’s mother was that she had been found beaten and unconscious on the train station platform in Macon, Georgia in 1902. I didn’t even know her name. She had no identification, no wedding ring, no luggage, and no ticket. She was unmarried. Pregnant. Maybe running away from someone or something. The police took her to the Door of Hope, a home for unwed mothers, and she died there, giving birth to my father.
Ghosts. I know they exist.
My grandmother’s presence has been in my life for as long as I can remember. I have dreamed about her. Perhaps even dreamed her dreams. Twice I have been awoken in the middle of the night to see a woman standing at the foot of my bed. She, like the grandmother in my book, was wearing a white dress. Not a fancy wedding dress, but a dress similar to the white cotton, no-nonsense, long- sleeved dresses the Suffragettes wore. I was not frightened by the presence of this woman’s ghost. In fact, I felt protected. Watched over.
I have written and published seven books and, hands down, this was the hardest book I have ever written. I guess you could say that I was writing blind, by instinct, perhaps from some deep place where I knew things but had never voiced their existence before.
At one point in the writing, I felt like I couldn’t go forward unless I went to Macon, Georgia to find something, I’m not sure what, perhaps a truth, a piece of the puzzle, or some small bit of history. What I found was the grave marker of the woman who adopted and raised my father, the Matron of the Door of Hope, Susan Knowles.
Her grave marker was in the middle of one of the largest burial plots on the edge of the cemetery. It was the only marker there, and as I approached her grave I felt the presence of others all around her. My husband felt it too.
When I wrote the first page of this novel, I had no idea where the book was going or why I wrote that my grandmother needed the granddaughter in the book to do some bidding for her. But it felt true.
Standing in that cemetery, I knew why I had come to Macon, why I was writing this book. It was my job to honor the many women and children who came to the Door of Hope looking for help. Women who died in childbirth. Stillborn babies. The many tragedies of the lives of women who were raped, shunned by society and their families, left to fend on their own with little help or hope.
Books, whether you are writing one or reading one, will take you to places you hadn’t imagined before. It is the wonder of books, and the reason we both create and read them.
When The Inevitable Past was published, I quit dreaming for a while. It was almost as though the ghost of my grandmother had at last been put to rest.
Her work in this world was done.
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