Tim White’s family knew he had a story to tell.
They encouraged him to write it down. That led, at age 80, to his first novel.
White, a Buckhead resident, jokes now that his daughters probably encouraged him to write because they worried he’d have too much free time on his hands after he retired from a lifetime of practicing law, “and would be a nuisance to their mother.” He worked his whole life as a lawyer and headed his own firm in Atlanta for 25 years, so he was used to staying busy.
But his daughters recognized a good tale that needed telling when they heard one. After all, they’re storytellers, too. Both are published novelists. One, Lauren Myracle, writes young adult novels. Her younger half-sister, Susan Rebecca White, tells Southern stories.
“I definitely knew he had a good story to tell,” Susan Rebecca White said. “What I was thinking about was his birth story – losing his mom so young. …. I just think it’s good for most people to go back and look at their stories. When you write things down, you might see things differently than the story in your head that you’ve told yourself over and over again.”
His wife, Ruth, also thought White should take a shot at telling his story. She’s a painter herself and saw his talent for writing years ago. “I knew he could write,” she said. “He wrote wonderful letters.”
White grew up writing – he was the son of a small-town newspaperman – so he decided to follow his daughters into writing books. He took creative writing courses at Georgia State and worked on short stories. He could walk to class from his law office, he said.
In the beginning, he focused on writing about the loss of his mother. But as he kept working, the story grew to take in more events from his life. The work eventually led to “Riley & Ben,” a novel that tells the story of a father, son and their family and is subtitled “Life offers second chances.” (The author is listed as “J.T. White” for James Timothy, he said. It was published earlier this year.)
“It’s fiction,” he said. “It’s based on events that occurred in my life, but some are embellished and exaggerated.”
It turns out there was plenty of drama from his life story to work into a novel. His mother died and he was badly injured in a car wreck in 1941. White, a baby less than a year old, was thrown from the car through a window. He said family members picked pieces of glass out of his scalp “for a couple of years.”
He has had lasting trouble with depth perception, too. “If you throw me a baseball, it’s hard for me to know where to put my hands to catch it,” he said. “I was a guy who wanted to play baseball with Stan Musial, but couldn’t.”
White was raised by an aunt and uncle while his father served in World War II. Then, when his father returned and remarried, he moved in with his father’s new family. His relationship with his stepmother wasn’t good. He described it as “unsettled,” he said. “She really didn’t want me,” he said. “She wasn’t an evil person. She was just a scared person.”
Writing about their relationship “was cathartic,” he said. “It got me, frankly, less hostile toward her.”
He and Ruth attended the same small-town high school. She “had a big crush on him,” she said recently as they sat in the light-filled living room of their home in a Buckhead high-rise, but she was just an eighth-grader and he was a senior, four years older. He barely noticed her. They ended up going their separate ways and married other people.
Years later, they met again. “At that point, I noticed her,” he said. “I can tell you the exact time. It was Sunday. In front of the Methodist Church, I saw her, and I thought, ‘My God, that’s Ruth.’”
They corresponded. “There was a recognition we should be together,” he said, and they reunited. They were married in 1974. Between them, they have six children, thirteen grandchildren and share their home with dogs named Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.
Now that he’s told a version of his story in his book, does he plan to do another novel? White initially said he has ideas, but then admitted he’s not sure who he feels about tackling another project like this one. “It’s such hard work,” he said. “I’m not sure I want to work that hard again.”
Besides, he said, “I’ve told the story.”