Friko mentioned at her blog that she has undertaken memoir writing and apologizes that her blog postings may become more sporadic as she immerses herself in her new writing task. Her post encouraged me to shake off the complacency I'd adopted toward my own foray into memoir writing. Below is a piece that appeared in the paper when I was still writing a weekly column. It seemed a good time to trot it out again. Perhaps, like Friko, if I say here that this is what I intend, I will find it easier to continue than to admit defeat publicly.
My son and daughter-in-law gave me a book one Christmas called "The Story of a Lifetime." Its lined and empty pages are headed with questions about ancestors and heritage, childhood days, education, work, marriage, beliefs, values, regrets, mistakes, milestones, favorite things, and lessons learned. It ends with a couple of additional pages on which to note how things have changed over a single lifetime. When all the questions have been answered, the book becomes a gift again, returned to the givers as a treasured family record.
It may be years before they get it back. The very first question about emigrating ancestors sent me to the safety box to dig out the notes my mother had written about her French lineage (written in French, of course). Some of her relatives left France in the 1700s to settle in the town of St. Bruno, located in the Province of Quebec, Canada. In the early 1900s, several of the younger family members came south to the United States. Both of my mother’s parents settled in Massachusetts and were married a year after my own father was born. My father’s father came to New York from Montreal, though his roots were English. He married a woman whose direct ancestors included General James Longstreet of Civil War fame, and a full-blooded Chippewa great-great grandmother. I didn’t learn this last fact until I was well into my 40s, after years of pretending to be a Native American, of learning to walk toe first so as not to snap twigs underfoot, of making prayer circles, of feeling a powerful kinship with the earth.
The next set of questions deals with inherited traits. How am I like my grandparents, my aunts or uncles or cousins? What of my parents do I see in myself? I have inherited artistic genes from both sides of the family – my mother’s aunt was an artist, as was my father’s great uncle. I see in myself my Peperé’s insatiable curiosity, my mother’s wry wit, my Uncle Pete’s humor, my cousin’s innate sense of poetry. We are all such hodgepodges, our DNA twisting through centuries of traits.
There are pages and pages to fill out about my parents - what were they like, how did they meet, what did they do for work, what sort of parents were they? Each question is a story all its own. There’s a section to record events from my childhood. Where did I go to school? Who were my best friends? What is my happiest memory? Did any tragedies occur? What was I frightened of? There are pages for recording my memories of growth and change from childhood to adulthood, my work experience, my own marriage, my reflections on my children, my religious and spiritual experiences, and my basic life philosophy. I will be at this forever, at the very least.
One page toward the end asks: How do you hope to be remembered? It reminds me of the epitaph game we used to play as kids; here lies so-and-so, followed by some clever, often derogatory witticism. My kids, playing the game once while helping me cut grocery coupons from the newspaper, quipped, “Mom’s not here, she’s gone to heaven – she had a coupon.”
I would not mind being remembered for my frugality. It would please me more, however, to think I am creating a legacy of continuity. All that I am has come to me from others, and will pass through me to future generations. I want my own grandchildren to inherit more from me than genetic predispositions. With this book, I can offer them the heartbeats of a lifetime.