The Richmond Register

Lifestyles & Community

January 5, 2013

Writing Your Memoirs: One Story At A Time

RICHMOND — My dad had a wild streak as a teenager. He was hot-headed, impulsive and at times, reckless. In high school, he got mad at his parents and ran away from home in southeast Iowa. He hitchhiked to Huntington Beach, California, to see his much older half-brother. After a brief visit (and a call home to reassure my grandparents), Dad was put on a train back to Mt. Pleasant.

He gave school another try but didn’t excel in academics. He loved sports, though. He played basketball with minorities in the neighborhood. This in an era when races barely mingled for business, let alone pleasure.

In 1950, at age 18, he married my 16-year-old mom and they had three daughters during the next four years. He settled down some except for his car racing phase. He wasn’t a spectator; he was the driver.  Like Ricky Bobby in the movie “Taledega Nights,” he liked to go fast. Not a big deal I suppose until he started taking the family car on the track. And didn’t always return it in driveable condition. Which understandably, upset my mom.

Eventually, Dad did the responsible thing and got a steady state job as a baker for a mental health facility. Always the athlete, he trained his daughters to play softball. Every night after supper in the spring, summer and fall, he’d hit us balls in the backyard. We’d catch, field and throw until dark when the weather was good or our neighbor called the cops because too many grounders ended up in his garden. None of us actually rocked the sport, but it kept us fit and my dad happy.

I’ve heard bits and pieces of these earlier stories over the years. But I would give anything to have them written down in Dad’s own words. That’s not possible since he passed away in 2005, a year after our youngest child, Ingrid, joined us.

It’s a personal loss not to have the written stories, especially since our children barely knew their grandparents on either side of the family. It’s hard for the kids to imagine their elderly grandparents were once vibrant, active, involved people. We share what details we know about them, but it’s not the same as hearing the stories from our parents’ perspectives. 

That’s why Mason and I are offering a 4-week class to help others with “Writing Your Memoirs—One Story At A Time.” Starting January 10, we’ll meet at the Richmond Area Arts Center, Thursdays, from 7-8:30 p.m., to get you started composing your own stories. So there will be no regrets later.

Everybody has stories. Some of us just need a gentle nudge to put them down on paper. Others might require a pep talk to get past the arguments of: “I don’t have the time,” or “I don’t have a clue what to say,” or “I can’t write my way out of a sentence.”

Not to worry. The secret is to start with one memorable moment. It doesn’t have to be huge, like winning the state basketball tournament by scoring the final free throw as the buzzer sounds. It can be something ordinary, but relatable.

When our oldest child was job hunting for the first time, I wrote him a story about my experience detasseling corn in the summers—a rite of passage if you grow up in Iowa. It had all the elements of a “girl against nature” adventure. Endless rows of corn. Sizzling heat. Biting bugs. Not ideal conditions. Nothing I’d want to do forever. But it padded the college fund. Which was the moral to the story.

I still want my kids to know about me ziplining in Costa Rica. Hot air ballooning in Kentucky. Applying to be NASA’s first journalist in space. Playing softball at Riverfront Stadium against wives of Cincinnati Reds players.

But I also want them to know about more mundane moments. Chores: collecting eggs from uncooperative chickens. Small town Halloween: where everyone knows you and demands a trick before giving you a treat. Quality time with grandparents: searching for worms in the neighbors’ gardens at night after a rain so we could go fishing.

I don’t want to give away all my secrets (which I shamelessly stole from my sister who has been writing episodic accounts of her childhood for her grandchildren) or you won’t sign up for the class like you should. So do it. Call RAAC at 859-624-4242 or e-mail them at Debbie@artsinrichmond.org. Your family will be glad you did.

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