My writing journey in the development of my uncle’s memoir, Dark Corner of War, consisted of a series of steps which began with writing a story about my Uncle Sumpter Wylie. The creative process started fifteen years ago with week-long writing classes at John C. Campbell Folk School in the mountains of North Carolina.
Using the research tools of family stories, letters, interviews with relatives, World War II books and articles, the mystery of his death unfolded along with many unanswered questions. In the process, I got to know Charles Sumpter Wylie as an individual, not just a casualty of war.
One such sojourn to connect the missing pieces of his life began on July 11, 2011 with a visit to see my first cousin, Joyce Jasper. When I arrived at the Charlotte Amtrak Station, it felt like déjà vu. The station had not changed in the forty years since I first traveled to Virginia for a reunion with an old college friend. Worn out wooden benches complimented grimy beige walls. A rabbit-eared television set was still on duty in the upper right-hand corner of the wall.
My train departed at 7:00 a.m. for Petersburg, Virginia. The symbolism did not escape me as I contemplated the fateful trip my mother, Martha, and her younger brother, Sumpter, took in 1929—two youngsters embarking on an uncertain adventure to an orphanage in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They had no idea of the challenges and pain awaiting them. During their first train ride, fear and excitement swirled through their minds and hearts. Their traveling companions, however, “Negroes and prostitutes” as my mother recalled, put Martha and Sumpter at ease by talking and listening to them.
As I got off the train car, Joyce, her daughter and son-in-law were straining to spot me. My seventy-eight year old cousin, hobbled over to greet me with a slow southern drawl. The sixteen years that had separated us melted away. Joyce remembered details of her life as a ten-year old girl whose uncle came by to visit her family prior to his being deployed overseas.
“I will never forget how attentive Sumpter was to me. I was just a little kid, but he made me feel so important by spending time with me. Before he left, Sump gave me a keepsake, his tan colored army cap with instructions to hold onto it until his return home.”
Sadly, Joyce never saw Uncle Sumpter again, and the cap was lost through several moves of my cousin’s family.
My writing journey to publish Dark Corner of War continues.