When my mom’s Aunt Mae died in 1984, we inherited some of her belongings, one of which was a handwritten short story. The story, I was told, had been written by Mae’s only child, Barbara, who had died in 1956 when she was 20 years old.
Life hadn’t been easy for Barbara. Her father, Mae’s husband, had died of tuberculosis when she was 18 months old. Mae and Barbara had to live with my great-grandparents in a small house after that. And Barbara was sick most of her life. She died, my mother told me, because her organs didn’t grow properly. It sounds vague but people back then didn’t talk openly about illness the way they do now. So I’ve never been sure what her exact condition was, only that she suffered greatly at the end of her short life.
Although I was born years later, I’ve always felt a connection to Barbara. I think of her as the other writer in the family. And while I can’t ever know who she was, I get the chance to hear her voice through her fiction. There’s nothing groundbreaking in “A Crinoline for Caroline,” but it does reveal some of the dreams Barbara would’ve held close at the time of her writing: romance, forbidden passion, beautiful gowns, happiness in life’s simplicity. And it shows talent, especially for someone her age. I’m assuming Barbara wrote it when she was around 18, the same age as her protagonist.
There are times, as a writer, when it’s easy to get down on yourself. To get a little jaded, wonder if the time that goes into your writing is really worth it in the end. But at least I get the chance to write. To put my stories out there. To share. That’s a chance Barbara never had.
I’m posting “A Crinoline for Caroline" because I think it deserves to be shared. It’s a good story. And it lessens some of the tragedy to think that the other writer, the one whose life was gone too soon, might find her readers all these years later.
You can read Barbara’s story here.