I wrote what would become my short story “Generations” many years ago. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my writing then, but I knew enough to realize that it wasn’t any good. A story about a garden party? Who cares!
When I first started writing, I focused on poetry. I’d never considered writing fiction, or, god forbid, a whole novel. Four sons and my church organ job kept me busy enough. But once, when my brother was visiting from New York City, he said, “You’ve always been good at writing. Why not try a short story?”
So I took his advice and tried, and, like most neophyte writers, my efforts were garbage. But eventually they got better and I began sending stories off to journals. A few were taken—but not “Generations.” It was the orphan I had no idea what to do with.
After my novel The Ones We Keep was accepted for publication, I revisited my earlier, unpublished writings, and “Generations” was the one story that intrigued me. I knew at once what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it. On one hand I wanted, through my main character, to show how a person can remain the same throughout life, even as joys and sorrows and contradictions accumulate. I also wanted to portray grief, and the choices people make to protect themselves when the worst happens—in the case of my main character, the death of an adult child.
The story didn’t take long to revise, once I knew where it was going. When I’m in the middle of something I don’t write to a schedule, I basically write when awake—and sometimes when I’m asleep. As for editing, it’s never finished. When “Generations” finally came out, I couldn’t wait to read it, but by the time I got to the second page, I was thinking: Damn—wrong word! How did I miss that?
The story’s structure alternates past/present/past/present during the course of a garden party held every summer for fifty years. Although the events and people are fiction, I based it on a real garden party I attended every summer at a friend’s farm in Eastern Ontario.
During the first garden party—both the real and the imaginary one—all the characters were hippies, but over the years most went back to school or secured jobs. Their families expanded to include children and then grandchildren. I wanted the story to be a very brief slice of life, and I wanted it to end in the middle of things. I hope I succeeded. If there is a curve to the story, it’s a very gentle one, with no real climax—and no real resolution. Kind of like life.
Bobby Jean Huff ’s poems, essays and stories have appeared in Canadian and US publications. In 2022 her debut novel, The Ones We Keep, was published by Sourcebooks.