The thing is, I’m a storyteller. I can’t seem to help it. It’s what I do. This very morning I was entering a typewritten story on the computer---step one in creating a new book. It’s a story I wrote for our kids in 1970, when we lived on a ranch in Eastern Oregon. Last year I published a 1972 story, written in our tiny home in Winchester, England. Our children have a copy of my Cabinboy Cal tale, seven hand printed pages from the summer of my eighth year. Turns out, that obsession began early and only grew stronger in retirement
Of course, it’s one thing to decide that you’ll tell a story, and another to know what you will write about. However, for some reason I have yet to understand, when I retired and returned to the scene of those earlier efforts I knew without asking the kind of story I would be telling. By then I had learned that life, at least the best part of life, is about relationships. It is the people in our lives, or sometimes the ones who are not, who make life worth living.
Without thinking twice I realized that I would be telling “relational” stories. I know, of course, that’s not what everyone calls them. But I prefer that label to the other possibility -- “romance.” After all, what kind of seventy-some year-old guy admits to writing “romances”? More to the point, does that label even apply to the often stumbling efforts of my seriously Beta-Male characters? In the end I always settle for “relational.”
Still, it took a while to get over the embarrassment of admitting that I wrote such stories. Finally I realized that it’s hard to imagine a story that is not at its heart a relational story. Whether it’s about young lovers, time-traveling vagabonds, zombies and vampires, or in the extreme---October Years seniors---at some point you and the author will probably explore the role of relationship in the lives of the characters.
Most of us have experienced the April version of relationship at least once. You know---the young dreams, young love, and young hormones. (Remember those?) It was a time of new experiences, when anything seemed possible. That was April love. We’ve been there and done that.
As you can imagine the October edition is bound to be something different. We may think we know how to play that game. After all, we played it once before, or more. Yet chances are we’ve never started over with someone who, like us, brings the baggage, barnacles, and limitations that come with October. The resulting relationship will be different. Why wouldn’t it be? After all, we’ve spent a lifetime becoming someone else.
Although treading that “second time” path may be daunting, the relation seekers that I portray are a tenacious bunch, not the kind to be easily put off. The fellow may win her in the end, or he may not. October endings are not always happily-ever-after. But whatever the outcome, it won’t be for lack of trying. It’s a trait we’ve learned over a lifetime. When you’re dealing with what might be your last chance, most of us are not apt to give up.
It was that way for Jack Benz in Becoming. He had pursued that lady for so long that he didn’t recognize her when they met again. Even then it was hard to understand what she was saying. But he wasn’t about to back off until he knew her better.
Hank Rolland, on the other hand, had been looking for answers in all the wrong places. Only when he runs away from his Conversations With Sarah---all the way to the Mendocino headlands---is he able to understand what she had been telling him all along.
Going Poor illustrates a different sort of October becoming. Lane Tipton’s dreams of “happily-ever-after” have gone terribly wrong. He is sixty years old, disappointed and dejected, and forced to face his depressing failure, It is a hard thing---watching his investment in the future turn out so badly. Yet even as he walks that troubling path he is surprised to learn that his dreams of relationship have not died---but have instead grown more urgent.
And then there is perhaps the ultimate challenge facing October relationships. What happens when the deep shadows of dementia intrude? In Best Friends and Promises Aaron Peck deals with that distressing change of course. Though Alzheimer’s seems to have transported her to some place beyond him, Leona is still there beside him. Sadly, the love and companionship she has always represented are gone. In time his October trials will be further complicated by the all-to-human need for companionship, and the upsetting attention of someone willing to ease his loneliness.
At every turn Tanner provides late-life relational stories waiting to be told. Be aware, however. These are not the stories of youthful abandon, the ones that line the supermarket bookshelves. And while you’re at it, throw away your dated stereotypes---of used-up seniors and their altogether boring lives. The October seekers I depict, the ones trying so hard to overcome the emptiness of life lived alone, are definitely worth getting to know. I hope you’ll check them out.