The Times West Virginian

January 16, 2013

Sharing stories

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — When he was growing up, Jack Daft would hear all these wonderful stories from his parents, Lewis and Edith Cole Daft.

“He was a Korean War vet, and he’d tell me, when I was younger, how lonely and frightened he was about the war.

“He was young and had never been away from home before. He was from No. 9. He made friends but he felt lost. He had a picture of his buddies, but he said he’d never felt so alone.”

Daft remembered one story about his uncle, his father’s brother, who was “shot up real bad.”

“He thought his brother was going to die. He was scared. I’d be scared, too. He said he saw dead people and shot people. He didn’t know if he’d killed anybody. He was only 18, 19 years old.

“Sometimes we forget how young these soldiers are. It really opened my eyes to what soldiers go through.”

He remembered one story his mother told him about a fateful journey to school.

“She grew up in Mannington. One day she was walking to school. It was raining hard and she got stuck in flood waters. I’m not sure if she fell. But a woman rescued her and pulled her out of the water.”

He used these stories to his advantage in college when he had to interview people about their past.

“I talked to her and got an A on the paper,” he said.

But as he got older, he was afraid he would lose these stories. At 81 and 78, respectively, his father and mother are at risk of these stories fading from their memories.

So he decided to do something about it.

He’d stop by every morning (“To make sure they were OK,” he said). But he wouldn’t be alone.

He’d have one of those little voice recorders, hide it in his pocket and have his parents tell him those stories again.

“Then I’d write them down. I’m glad I did,” he said.

“I put them into journals my kids and my brother’s and sister’s kids could read.”

That was the natural thing to do.

“I’m a story-teller. I love to tell stories,” he said.

“I like to read anything,” he said. “But I’m not sure I can write like that.”

Then he decided to write journals about his children, Adam and Tasha.

“It was about the things they did, and about their family and grandparents.

“Our son wasn’t supposed to eat candy but there was a candy bar and he tricked me into letting him have it.

“Or our daughter was trying to peel an orange one day but she could not get it peeled. She worked and worked on it. Or of her learning to tie her shoes. Or she wanted to pet a cow but couldn’t get close enough.”

Both of them loved to play in the creek that ran in front of their house, “but we discouraged that unless we were there,” he said.

They scared the willies out of their kids by telling them there were “man-eating minnows” in the stream.

“The soil had turned black there and we told them that’s where the minnows ate. That worked for a time

“I haven’t given the journal to our daughter,” he said, adding their son had passed away some years ago.

These spiral notebook journals are not illustrated, he said.

That changed when grandson Cowen came along.

His journals are bright with photos and drawings perfect for an inquisitive 2-year-old boy. They’re laminated to repel the inevitable spills and stains that come along with any 2-year-old.

“I’m making him a journal every year of things he did,” Daft said. “I want him to know, when he can read, what he did when he was too young to remember.

“Now, none of this is fictional. A lot from our kids’ journals were fiction. But for Cowen, this will be just what he did.

“I’ve toyed with the idea of writing, but I don’t think I have the talent to fill it out,” he said.

Since that first journal, he’s written about 10, he said. Those first journals have given him a deeper understanding of his parents.

“I started to remember the things I’d heard before. I’d ask my dad questions and got to understand him better. And it brought back memories.

“Dad was a joker. Mom was a reader. I remember the Bookmobile coming and she’d sign out books and always took them back to get new books.

“The journals helped me look back and see my parents’ influence ... why things are and why I think I do.

“I can hear my father in me now.”

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.