The facts, Ma’am, just the facts. That’s a resume.
Well, so is your bio, but it’s a lot more fleshed out. Contains every little detail anyone could ever want to know about you. Life, in retrospect, is generally a boring story. Days turn into weeks turn into years and there may be only a dozen or so highlights worthy of remembrance or celebration. Events that, at the time of their happening may have been all-consuming or devastating, have a way of fading into vague feelings of unease or bringing on sad smiles of sentimental recollection. Life goes on. So, where’s that big story? That potential movie plot? That Pulitzer Prize-winning novel? Didn’t someone once say that everybody has at least one good story in them? That your own life is unique? That, properly written, there’s a lesson, an example, or maybe a warning in there somewhere that would be of interest to almost anyone?
How many times have you wished that you’d paid more attention to those tales and details of life told by your parents and grandparents around the family dinner table, recalled while standing around the church after a wedding or funeral, or laughed about at those family reunions and picnics? And how many times have your children or grandchildren told you it would be nice if you’d write down all those little reminiscences that pop out of your memory from time to time?
And, what do you tell them when they suggest that?
“Someday, when I have the time.”
“Oh, dear. I’m no writer. I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
Shame on you! If you can tell it sitting on the porch with your granddaughter, you can write it down. Some people shudder at the idea of having to write down a simple story they’ve told probably dozens of time. I’d like to remind you that this is not a junior high school English class. You will not be graded. You need not hand in a preliminary outline. Nobody is going to correct your punctuation, grammar, or spelling. All they really want is the story. Written down by someone who remembers it accurately. So it won’t get forgotten or distorted by others who’ve forgotten some of it and embellished the rest from their own imaginations.
Those little stories, once you’ve written them all down (and I doubt that you’ll ever finish, since one memory leads to another) will be what we call a memoir. Memoirs are made up of the interesting, vital, most entertaining and most revealing stories we have experienced. They needn’t be told in any particular order. They can be your own experiences or written accounts of things your parents or others told you about. It is probably wise to make it clear that these latter tales are second-hand, for there will undoubtedly be relatives and friends who have entirely different memories of the same events. In fact, it has been my experience that any two people attending the same event will probably have different versions of the occurrence.
Because you are writing a memoir, you can skip all the boring and aggravating research into who was born where and when, when and where they were married or buried. Even what they did for a living if it doesn’t affect the story you are telling. But then, you never know what those supposedly boring facts might add to the story. The information that one of my grandfathers immigrated from Norway as a young man, was a photographer, and built violins as a hobby reveals some of the reasons that his son, my dad, was gentle, sentimental, creative, and fiercely patriotic.
And there’s another side to that “unnecessary information” coin as well. My sister recently asked me where our parents were married. I was amazed to realize that I didn’t know. I did know that they spent their honeymoon in the Wisconsin Dells (which my sister hadn’t known) but knowing that my mother’s family had an inclination to pack up and move on at the drop of a hat, my curiosity was piqued. With over a dozen small communities and farms in Iowa, Kansas, Colorado and Wisconsin that we KNOW of, there are still lots of places to look. As I’ve said, I don’t really NEED to know but, since someone asked, maybe it’s important enough to make the effort to find out.
I’d also suggest you think up a distinctive title for your collection of life stories. Those of you who enjoy the English comedies on IPTV will know what I’m talking about when I mention Lionel Hardcastle’s book, “My Life in Kenya.” A title so lacking in imagination that most people, on learning the title, invariably ask him, “What’s it about?” Duh!