Sunday, November 06, 2011

Taking up the challenge...

Then husband and our 4 kids in 1974

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 Peper√©’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.

14 comments:

Molly said...

I prefer a blank page, because once you get writing you're going to need lots more space! But the idea is wonderful....I so wish I had journals written by my mother or grandmother. It would help me to know them so much better than I ever did, since when you write you reveal yourself, at least a little bit.

What a sweet picture!

How little we knew, when we started out, the twists and turns the road would take.

Marion said...

I'd like a book like that. It would take me a long time to complete it, though. With each memory comes a lot of thought, which might take up the majority of my time.

I like this..."I can offer them the heartbeats of a lifetime." How wonderful that your mother had written notes on her lineage. I would have to rely on memory about stories told about my family.

I'm not sure I entirely trust my memory, heh!! xx

Tabor said...

My parents were not good at saving history or telling tales and I left as a young adult and didn't seem them often. My brother has all the stories, but he doesn't write except about politics in Europe!

Judith said...

The Chippewa great-grandmother: that's key!
Of all the resonances even these partial musings set off, that's the one that's most forceful.
I see you striding silently through the forests of Silver Street. I see that almost-mystic love of nature. I see those, and continuity.
Poem?????

Brian Miller said...

i have kept journals of my writing and daily observations...i will pass them to my boys when they are old enough...

Molly said...

......a tendril of a passion fruit vine!

Hilary said...

I had one of those books and I never filled it out. I'm embarrassed to say that I recently put it in a box with other items to give away to charity.

I have no doubt you'll do beautiful justice to this project.

I come from Montreal and used to go horseback riding in St. Bruno. :)

Star said...

Some very nice reminiscences there Pauline. It's always good to look back at your ancestry to find out who you really are. Looking at your lovely picture of the family, you look to me as if you have Scandinavian roots.

Barbara Shallue said...

I've always been a genealogy addict, but in recent years haven't had time to pursue it. However I recently interviewed and recorded my parents. Their memories are priceless and I want to preserve them!

Brian Hayes said...

As usual: Clarity. Sincerity. Humility; that humility that rises to the what's expected of us.

Pauline said...

Molly - the limited space is better to begin with, forcing me to write with clarity. I can always add pages...

marion - all our memories are faulty to some degree, or at the very least, filtered!

Tabor - and not all children are interested in their parent's pasts so maybe it's all okay

J - I can't tell you how excited I was to discover that bit of information!

Brian - no doubt they will treasure them!

Hilary - when you come across a Desrochers, a Guertin or a Senecal, they're mine :)

Star - there's Dutch in there but so far I've not discovered any ancestors from Denmark, Norway, or Sweden.

Barbara - your kids will surely appreciate those interviews. Wish I'd been able to do that.

Brian - I thank you.

Dianne said...

what a lovely coincidence
I too have embarked upon writing down memories and stories about my grandmom and so on
I plan to at least leave it for my granddaughter and perhaps share it with a wider group

I must learn to let the words flow and stop trying to make it perfect the first time
I get in my own way

thanks for the visit
I'm so glad my post made you laugh, I love when that happens

Anne said...

I actually regard my blog as a sort of memoir, or diary or both. And I sometimes record my thoughts about politics and other subjects. I have about half of it printed -- I keep telling myself to print the other half. And it's really for my descendents. I have 12 grandchildren and 1 1/2 great grandchildren, so my audience is growing. (The 1/2 is actually more like 3/4 -- a girl due in January.

Pauline said...

Dianne - thanks for the return visit. We'll have to compare notes about how our memoirs are going...

Anne - my blog couldn't be considered an actual memoir as I digress too often! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment.