< Every so often, I teach a class called “Writing Your Life Story.” Most of the people who are there for classes are senior citizens, who, for the most part, have been urged by family members to come. As they introduce themselves, it goes something like this: “I’m Jane Doe, and I’m here because my children keep telling me I need to write this all down—but I don’t know where to begin.” My first assurance to them all is that they don’t need to write like Laura Ingalls Wilder—their families will be thrilled with anything they put down on paper. It’s amazing to me how many people don’t feel they have anything of interest to tell their descendants! I want to tell you about my parents, because they were the epitome of opposites when it came to this. My mother told stories from the time I can remember about her family, about her friends, the small town she grew up in. These were details of an ordinary life that gave me insight into the way times were during the Dustbowl days in Oklahoma. It told me about her life in particular and life in general, and it also brought people I never knew to reality for me through her memories. (This is a picture of my mom and dad--newlyweds in 1944.)
Mom had a dear friend, just her age, named Mary. They were both the eldest of their respective families, each with many younger siblings that they were responsible for. Mom mentioned how she and Mary both longed for and cherished the few times when they could be alone to talk “girl talk” without each having two or three little ones they had to look after.
One of their favorite places to go was the cemetery. They’d both been born in Albany, so they knew the stories of everyone buried there in the small cemetery. The Taylor family, whose six children went berry picking, only to take shelter under an oak tree when a storm blew up suddenly. Lightning struck the tree and killed all but two of them. The oldest boy crawled to a nearby farmhouse for help, but died later. Out of the six, only one survived. There were no markers on their graves, but Mom showed me where each was buried.
(The picture below is of my Great Grandma, Josie Belle Walls McLain Martin and her grandchildren. My mom is the oldest at the left hand side--8 years old, with several of her little sisters. Taken in 1930--Depression and Dustbowl Days in Oklahoma, which had only been a state for 23 years at this time.)
(This is a picture of my dad, Fred Moss, and his younger brother, Kay, taken around 1939--my dad was 17 or 18.)
The young child who, at eighteen months, crawled under the porch and drank tree poison his father had believed was well-hidden. Mom told me how his lips were stained purple She and Mary had gone to the funeral and it was imprinted in her mind forever.
She and Mary shared everything growing up. It was a good Christmas if they each received and apple, and orange, and some hard candy in their stockings, and maybe a doll, in addition, in the better-then-most years.
From Mom I learned about our family ancestors—where they’d come from and who they were. As a child, I thought of them as a story she told, but as I grew older, they became real people to me.
I learned about her, too—how, as a teen, she’d pool her hard-earned money with her younger sister, Joyce, to buy the newest Hit Parade Magazine with all the lyrics to the latest songs. They had sung together from the time they knew how, adding more harmonies as more sisters came along. (My Aunt Joyce during WWII)
My dad never talked about his adolescence much. Even though he and Mom grew up together in the same small community, he never had much to add to the conversations. What I know of his family, I learned mostly from my aunt, his younger sister.
Why write it all down now? Because most people never believe they’ll run out of time. “Someday” never comes. My mom had such fascinating stories, filled with tenderness, charged with emotion—stories that made it seem as if I was there along with her as she spoke. She was a painter, an artist, and she could paint pictures with her words, as well.
Mom always wanted to write them down, but like so many, never found the time before it was too late, and Altzheimer’s took away that ability.
I will write it all down…all that I can remember of it. But I can’t help thinking how I wish she had written her story, with all the vivid details and description she used in telling about it. There is so much I won’t know. So much will be lost, simply because this was her life.
The memories are hers: the hard times, as well as the good—the days in an everyday life…and, the nights, when entertainment was nothing more than the beautiful harmonies of the four little girls, floating in the summer stillness for miles as they sang on the front porch…in a much simpler, slower time.
If you are interested in getting started on writing your life story, or know someone who is, I will be glad to e-mail you some questions that I use in my classes to help you get started. Just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
I NEED TO WRITE THAT DOWN--by Cheryl Pierson
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Cheryl this is so wonderful.. I should right down some of the things that my mother, grandmother, father and aunt have told over the years.ReplyDelete
But I did do a memory book for my mother about five years ago. It was for Christmas and I wrote about all of the Christmas we shared as a family. I found pictures of Family Christmas and put it all together. It was the first Christmas without my dad. Everyone loved it and it will go down through the generations. After my mother passed away, I gave it to my oldest Niece. She will cherish it, the other children are too young, and I hope that she will share it with them too and the next generation.
That's what makes you such a good writer. Writing it all down.
Thanks so much, Kathleen! I'm thrilled to hear that you did the memory book for your family. That's a wonderful gift for many generations to come. I'm so glad you came by today, dear friend. You really should write some of the memories to go with those pictures--and other memories, too! Your family will be so thankful to have your insights.ReplyDelete
Great stuff, Cheryl. You've given me ideas for several posts of my own. Thanks again.ReplyDelete
My mom did something very similar, and I'll treasure it -as will my descendants, I hope.ReplyDelete
Fascinating, Cheryl. And thank you for sharing your photographs. I often think that pictures like these are like windows into the past. Terrific to have some of the back-story.ReplyDelete
I think you did a wonderful job right here talking about your family history.ReplyDelete
I do wish I had paid more attention to my parents when they talked about their youth. Mostly, I wish I had asked my Grandfather McNeal and my maternal grandmother more questions about their histories and life. My grandfather was born one year after the Civil War ended. Unbelievable.
The closest I ever cam to writing a family history was The Violin. It was almost true as far as the characters, the town and my grandfather's house. Genivive and her grandmother were, of course, totally fiction. I regret that I didn't find out more from all of them.
Thank you for bringing up this subject. I would love to have those questions you mentioned from your class to get started.
Cheryl--You are such a good teacher for this sort of thing--well, any kind of writing--but to help older people write their own story is wonderful.ReplyDelete
I don't think any one of my kids would really be interested in my memories, but one day, when I learn to self-publish--haha--I have been thinking how to put things into a book. I would do this for myself, but get copies for everyone. What they do with the copies is up to them. Maybe when they get my age they'll remember and say, Oh, remember that story Mom told about burying pennies under the rabbit hutch hoping they'd turn to gold?
I write "fictionalized" anecdotal stories, a few you may have seen--and that's how I would put my book together. I probably have eight or nine already, and have more in my head.
This was a lovely way to spend a few minute, reading your blog and looking at those wonderful photos.
Thanks, my friend.
Cheryl, your post is the last push I needed. Actually I've already decided that my present WIP would be the last one for sometime. My kids have asked me to write our family history. Do I have things to tell them? I think so. My uncle already wrote a book about my father's side of the family and I cried so much while reading it. And he sent me a book on how to write memoires.ReplyDelete
I love the pictures and it's so nice to read about the memories to go along with them. We've also talked about putting together a family history. Actually, one of my mother's cousins has done one branch of the family clear back to the Doomsday Book.ReplyDelete
Your post is especially relevant to me today, because I was over at my brother's house helping him sort things out prior to moving to a smaller place. My parents lived with him for many years. After they passed away, he stayed in the same house. I found many of their photos before we were born and also letters and photos from an uncle I'd heard about, yet never met. It was kind of sad, but also intriguing.ReplyDelete
Cheryl, thanks for this intriguing post. Every photograph has a story to tell. But, when you combine them with written words, and passionate perspective, they really come alive for families who want to share and celebrate the past. I can remember sitting for hours listening to my grandmother tell me stories about our family. I've kicked myself because I didn't have the wherewithal to turn on a tape recorder.ReplyDelete
I'm glad to have helped! I remember so many of the stories my mom told me--I need to get them down in some form before I start forgetting!
Troy, bless your mom for doing that--I know you will definitely treasure it being the history enthusiast you are, and I'm sure your daughter and her children will, as well. What a treasure that is!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Keith. I love old pictures of any kind. These "colored" photos are what was becoming the rage here in the 30's and 40's--I think my mom did both of these--she was unhappy with the one of her and dad because she got her lipstick too red. LOL (But it really WAS red, red! I remember she had one tube called "Paint the Town Red")ReplyDelete
The saying "youth is wasted on the young" is so true when it comes to things like this, isn't it? When you're young you couldn't care a whit for the stories the "old fogies" told. But as you get older and they're all gone, you always wish you could have known more, or listened better. It is really unreal that your grandpa was born so soon after the Civil War ended. My grandfathers weren't born until 1898 or thereabouts. All of my grandparents were born here in OK before it was a state, when it was still Indian Territory.
p.s.--I'll get those questions to you.
Aw, Celia, I'm so very glad you enjoyed this blog. I love these old pictures. Some day I want to put a ton of my old pictures on here and be able to use them like this in posts, or start a family website with the pictures on them where we can all share pictures on my mom's side and dad's sides of the family.ReplyDelete
You never know who would be interested in your stories. I love reading your stories about your growing up years. When you think about it, the Little House books weren't ALL fact. It could be based on the life of a person (YOU) without being factual about every single word. I hope you will go for it!
I think, just from what I know of you, your life story would be fascinating! I think you have a lot to say to people--and maybe not just those in your family, but a wider audience, as well. Of course, our families are always so thrilled to get such a gift-- that's truly a generous gift--of time, memories, and yourself. I hope you will do it. I'm planning on getting started on mine, too.
Jacquie, that is soooo cool. Doesn't that just make you want to write the rest of your family history? LOL I have an aunt, my mom's youngest sister, who has really made a lot of friends doing genealogy of cousins and relatives we never knew before she started doing it. I don't have all of her material but I do have some of it.ReplyDelete
My oldest sis and I had to sort through all Mom's and Dad's stuff when they went to a nursing home, then arrange for an estate sale. About a year later, that same sister ended up having a debilitating stroke and had to live in a nursing home. I had to go down and sort through her storage shed, until I just couldn't do it any more. I ended up donating virtually all of her furniture and misc. stuff to a yard sale for homes for unwed mothers.I took the pictures, keepsakes, etc. which a lot of are stored in my attic. I just had to take a break from it for a while. It is so intriguing, but sad, as you say. I found a box of letters my dad had written to my mother that I want to scan and preserve.
Tom, my dad taped some conversations between himself and his dad. I have the cassette tapes but want to take them somewhere professional to get them put on a disc. I have not listened to them since I made copies of them from my sister. I hope they copied okay and that we'll be able to get them onto a disc, as both my grandfather and dad have passed away. Thank goodness he had the forethought to do it, but now I've gotta follow through and get them transferred.ReplyDelete
Family reunion coming up in June (on my way to WWA in Las Vegas) and my brother is putting some history together. Mom kept a diary. Dad never wrote a thing. Thanks for the post.ReplyDelete
What a lovely piece. I enjoyed every word!ReplyDelete
Chuck, my dad did keep a diary when he was a young man. My mom kept one after my sisters were born where she wrote things down about them. But I know she had a diary when she was younger--who knows what ever happened to it--I think about her a lot, the oldest of 11 kids, having to try to keep the younger ones out of her things and having no privacy at all.ReplyDelete
Jenny, thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Don't be a stranger here at our blog--you're always welcome!ReplyDelete
Leaving a written family history is a wonderful thing! I wish my grandma had done it, but I have talked Mom into at least starting. I'll have to remind her. ;-)ReplyDelete
I plan to write my own, definitely.
Yes, Loraine. I need to do it, too. It's one of those things we don't need to put off until "someday"--So many things have vanished already that I thought would be around forever.ReplyDelete