COMFORT AND JOY
by John M. Floyd
A few days ago I attended what used to be an annual event for our extended family: a Christmas gathering at the home of one of our nearby cousins. In the recent past this event has unfortunately not been so annual; we sometimes go for several years at a stretch without seeing most of our relatives. When it does happen, I think everybody enjoys the fellowship — but most folks’ lives nowadays are just too fast-paced for them to commit to something like regular holiday get-togethers.
This latest reunion reminded me of Old Times. About fifty of us (mostly Floyds and Gillilands) met in suburban Madison, Mississippi, thirty miles northwest of our home, to eat and drink and catch up on each other’s latest adventures. At 84, my mother is the martriarch of that group now; all my aunts and uncles are gone, so most of those present were my first-, second-, and third cousins. One of our sons asked me to draw up a family tree and e-mail it to him beforehand so he’d be able to better recognize longlost names and faces, but I think it gave him a headache. During the festivities I overheard one of our three-year-old grandchildren introducing our daughter Karen to someone by solemnly saying, “This is my cousin Aunt Karen.” My mother’s probably the only one who really knew who everybody was.
My wife and I plus our three children (our older son is a chemical engineer in Ohio, our second son is a physician here in Jackson, and our daughter is a schoolteacher in a suburb about five miles from us) and their spouses and kids came back home afterward to continue the reunion here, and our crew of thirteen are staying at our house (a.k.a. Mission Control) for a week or so. Our five grandbabies are all under the age of six, so our usually quiet home is a lively place this Christmas. The closest I can come to describing it would be the studio cafeteria scene in Blazing Saddles.
How does all this connect to mystery/suspense writing? Well, strangely enough, it turned out that most of the attendees at our recent reunion were avid readers and almost as many were movie addicts, and I always enjoy being around those kinds of folks whether they’re related to me or not. (Our kids are definitely readers and moviegoers — no surprise there.) At the gathering I got into conversations about everything from Grisham novels to the latest Matt Damon movie, even though some of my more distant kinfolks weren’t aware of my second career as a mystery writer. One of them asked me, when she found out about all my stories: “Where do you get your ideas?” I wish I could say it was the first time I’d heard that question.
I even saw a few people there who had unknowingly become characters in my fiction, and several whose antics inspired some of my plots. None of them are actually wanted by the Law or out on parole — at least not to my knowledge — but they are interesting enough to have formed the basis for some of my quirkier criminal creations. And I’m a believer than any contact with other humans, on any level, can be story fodder. I just try to keep my mental notepad open and ready.
When you read this, of course, the hubbub will be about to wind down (even at our house) and Christmas gatherings will be over for another year — but I still want to wish all of our Criminal Brief friends and readers the happiest of holidays. I hope you know how much we at CB appreciate you. I also hope you have a healthy and prosperous 2011, and that you will read and enjoy many, many short mysteries over the months to come.
Season’s greetings to everyone.