People deal with trauma and brokenness in different ways; some choose to forget or deny.
Then there’s Roberta Faye Bryant, who decided to put it out there for all to see.
Bryant, a resident of Townsend, has penned a trilogy about three generations of her family. It starts with her grandmother, given the name Louise Rafferty in the first book, then on to the mother Elaina and the final one, Beth, about herself. “Louise” was just published and “Elaina” will be out next week. “Beth” will follow. The author said she initially started out writing it all in one book. The names are fictional because this is a work of fiction despite the inclusion of real life events.
“As I wrote it, it kept getting bigger,” Bryant said. “The page count was growing and growing. I told myself I don’t think I can write it this way as grandma, mom and me because it’s turning into ‘War and Peace.’ So I decided to make it a trilogy.”
The book is historical fiction, the author points out, with lots of true-life stories. Bryant said she is thankful for her aunt who had done much family research, so that’s what she started with.
Bryant’s grandmother was born into a sharecropper home in southern Illinois in 1899. Her mother died the day after her first birthday. Bryant’s great-grandfather later remarried, but there wasn’t any information about her.
So, in the book, the second wife dies on the way to Arkansas to set up a new homeplace.
Bryant’s grandmother had an older sister when the family picked up and moved to Arkansas. Eight years older.
“When they moved to Arkansas, the older sister took on the role of mom,” Bryant said.
“She was eight years older than my grandmother. She took on all of the cooking and cleaning laundry duties, all the woman’s work.”
But when Bryant’s grandmother turned 8, she had to take over those duties as
her sister got married and moved out.
Times were hard
In the book, she tells the story of how her grandmother was walking to the creek to get water for the family. She came upon a doodlebug and stopped by the roadside to play.
“She stopped to play because doodlebugs are fun,” Bryant said. “When she got home, she got the worst whipping she’d ever had because she didn’t have dinner on time. That was how she grew up, with a father who didn’t know how to raise kids by himself.”
Bryant said her grandmother was only 16 when she took off for what she hoped was a better life.
As Bryant began hearing and collecting stories of her grandmother and mother, she realized they all had more in common than ancestry. Stubbornness is definitely in each of them, Bryant said. And determination to work hard for second chances. All three were also accepting of others and welcomed strangers into their hearts and homes.
They also saw into their futures minus any rose-colored glasses and made their moves.
“There is this common thread of we all married to get out of situations we were in,” Bryant said. “It was all for love. My grandmother got married at 16. My mom married at 14.”
The author was 18 when she got married, but the marriage ended in divorce. She is now happily married to Jack and they have three sons. She is a survivor of abuse, cancer and betrayal.
Both Bryant’s grandmother and mother have passed away. Her grandmother was only 69 when she died in 1969. Her mom died of heart failure in 2015 and battled Alzheimer’s. Bryant’s father died in 2017 of a massive stroke.
A family feud
Readers of “Louise” will learn about a huge rift between grandmother and mother. They would reconcile years later and Bryant recalls attending family reunions in Arkansas. Bryant was born and raised in Florida.
The divide was caused by Louise’s belief that Elaina was having affairs on her husband Grant. Elaina’s oldest brother even testified against her in divorce proceedings, causing Elaina to lose custody of her two children.
It was Bryant’s dad who was instrumental in getting the two “hard-headed” women back together, Bryant said.
“He wrote grandma a letter with bus fare for her to come visit them,” Bryant explained. “It was a surprise to mom when she got a call from her mother to pick her up at the bus station. After that, they were right as rain.”
The trilogy, the author said, is inspirational in some ways. She said her grandmother had many struggles but never gave in to them.
“She had a hard life,” Bryant said. “But she always had the attitude that it’s good. Things are good. Life is positive, not something to endure. It’s a thing to live. She was a woman of faith. That’s how she lived.”
In many ways writing these three books was therapy for Bryant, but it was also distressing. She said she felt the tension as she became her characters.
Who we become
“There were times when I would cry big ole tears,” she said. “There was trauma throughout. When I was writing about the reconciliation between my grandmother and mom there were tears of joy. I had to put myself in her position to capture those feelings.”
It took years for Bryant to fully understand her family’s past and reconcile her feelings around growing up in such a harsh world. It all made more sense when she dug deep into her parents’ past as they both had huge helpings of brokenness. She said the two of them would be called functional alcoholics by today’s standards; they spent a great amount of time in bars as Bryant was growing up.
Learning about them, she said, has helped her forgive. That is a theme for all three books.
Bryant said she can only imagine that Louise saw an easier life in her escape, even though she would still be cooking and cleaning. She got married at 16 to get out from under the gruff hands of her father.
“To be loved by a man who didn’t consider every mistake catastrophic was bliss,” Bryant said.
Elaina’s burden was just as heavy. She had to become the “man of the house” after her father and brother were gone, Bryant said. She learned to drive and worked the fields. She left to marry at 14.
“Both Elaina and I married abusive men,” Bryant said. “Louise got it right the first time.”
The first two books are complete and the third will be so soon. The process of writing them has been therapy for Bryant. She said the project has caused her to closely examine what other people endured and felt instead of just staying in her own head.
All her life, Bryant said family has laughed at the stubbornness that goes back generations. She now sees it differently, more like being in survival mode and beyond.
“I see strong women who faced adversity and trauma and not only survived but thrived.”