I didn't know Edwin Timms, but I think about him often.
He was the favorite brother of Flora Thompson, who wrote the trilogy of books that were consolidated in the 1940s as Lark Rise to Candleford. This has been rejiggered into a TV series and the books seem to have been put in the shade by this, which rankles because the book is really wonderful (much better than the show if you ask me, but you didn't, did you?)
Edwin appears in the book as "Edmund" (Flora rewrote herself as "Laura"). Laura and Edmund were not children of privilege. They grew up in a cottage in "Lark Rise," a fictionalized Oxfordshire farm hamlet, at the end of the 19th century. There, the Timms family scraped by in a world that seems almost equal parts medieval and modern. Their mother had aspirations for them: nanny for Laura, carpenter for Edmund. Edmund thought he would like to be a farm worker: he loved the outdoors. His mother was horrified. Carpenter was about right. Laboring could be left for those who could do no better.
Reading his sister's account of their childhood together, it's clear that Edmund was every bit as bright and talented as Laura - maybe moreso. Laura was an autodidact. She didn't become a nanny, but a postmistress. Before all was said and done, however, she was a famous and justifiably beloved author. He died fighting in Belgium in 1916.
A central inspiration for me in writing Up, Back, and Away was Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard. It was assigned reading back when I was in high school (is it still?). It asks powerful questions about what might have been if those who never got much of a chance had drawn a different lot in life. Thinking about the poem while I was out walking in the Vermont woods one day about seven years ago I thought - well, what if there were the occasional intervention? What if talent, which had been misplaced, was shifted to a place where it could root and grow? I started diagraming the story right there on that walk.
With Veteran's Day I'm thinking of Edwin Timms again. He comes alive in his sister's account. I can practically see him. I feel as though I know him.
The loss of one such seems too much to bear. My imagination fails when I try to multiply it by hundreds of thousands. This backdrop of death, dismay, and diminishment for England in the 1920s was also much on my mind as I wrote Up, Back, and Away. It's on my mind again for Veteran's Day 2014. Tonight I'm grateful to Flora Thomspon for her wonderful book, for her endurance, and for making her lost brother live in her pages so that one such as I could remember him too - at least in this small way.