Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Writing Down the Memories

I’m a contemporary romance author, but at one point I considered trying a story set during WWII. My 85 year old mother-in-law is the only remaining family member from that generation so I called and asked her to write down things she could recall from living through the war.
            Somewhere in our conversation she either misunderstood or simply changed her mind because instead of telling me about the 40s she started writing her life story. It turned out to be one of the sweetest blessings of my life.
            My mother-in-law has always talked freely about her life growing up in small rural town in Ohio, one of eight children from parents of Hungarian descent. This memoir however was full of new insights into her life that surprised and delighted us all. When I got her forty pages, handwritten on spiral notebook paper, I called her and she explained that she was unable to sleep one night and just started writing about her life. The more she wrote the more she enjoyed remembering. I told her I would type it up, edit it, then send her several copies. But as I typed a wonderful thing happened. The words were so true to her, so typical of how she would speak that I couldn’t bring myself to make it all pretty and proper. Reading it in her words was like sitting beside her and listening to her tell the story. I did correct spelling, double check street names, and names of friends, but basically I printed it as she wrote it. We designed a cover – a picture of our gazebo which is her favorite place to sit – then placed the pages in a small three ring  notebook and sent them to her.
            What a treasure those few pages turned out to be. Our family will forever have her story at our finger tips. A glimpse into another era, to the person she was beyond Mom, Grandma and Great Grandma.
            Mom’s mother was colorful Hungarian woman who told wonderful stories about growing up as an immigrant. Over the years various family members promised to write down her stories, or get her to tell them into a recorder, but sadly no one ever did. Now she’s gone and so are the stories. My parents are both gone and I can no longer go to them and ask questions about relatives or about their childhood. Fortunately, we have diaries and journals that my mother kept but nothing from my dad.
            As writers we need to find time to capture these pieces of family history before it’s too late and  encourage our older relatives to write down their past. A few things I’ve learned about getting relatives to participate - don’t give them a fancy journal to write in. They’ll be reluctant to mess it up and the pretty pages can be intimidating, making them feel they need to write a proper book. Better to give them a small spiral notebook and a pen. Start on a holiday and ask them to write down special memories from that day. No need to worry about nice sentences, or starting at the beginning of their life. That too can be daunting.
            Once you start collecting those precious moments of their lives you’ll have a family treasure you will cherish for generations. Don’t put it off. Time is rushing away. I’m starting my own personal remembrance file today.


             Lorraine Beatty
             Visit me at:


Claude Nougat said...

Wise advice, yes, time is running out! My mother is 99 years old, almost 100, and fortunately, her mind and memories are still intact. I've tried to write down stuff about her (I did include some short stories about her in my Death on Facebook short story collection) but not enough...Because, unlike your Grandmother, she is a painter and never really wrote anything (beyond recipes - she used to be a very good cook in the grand old French manner...No more, of course, she can barely stand up and walk)

So, yes, I do believe your advice is very timely, we should all remember to collect our elders' memories, they are full of gems!

J.B. DiNizo said...

Yes, collect those memories while our elders are still living! I had to make up just about everything in my book "Without Harry Dean" as there is no one left living in my father's family who knows of what really happened back then.

JoAnn Durgin said...

Great post! Thank you, and I'll check out your new book. After my dad's passing a number of years ago, my uncle gave me eight typed pages of memories my dad had written. My parents divorced when I was very young, and there were some rather harsh words in those pages that I believe my uncle wanted to shield me from, but when I became an adult and a parent, he felt I needed to have them. I cherish those words written by my dad about his growing up years and serving in World War II. Although my dad was already gone when I read those memories, they are very special. It's sad that it took my children having an assignment to "interview" their grandmother (my mother) in order to find out some things I never knew about her, as well. It's important for the generations to learn from one another. As you know, there's a lot of wisdom learned by the best teacher...experience, time, and the blessings we've taken away from them. I love the photo of the gazebo and have used a gazebo in one of my books, so seeing the photo made me smile. Thanks for sharing and many blessings to you!

Liz Flaherty said...

I've done this with my mother-in-law, too, and what a blessing it's been. I loved your post!

................................ Kevin Parsons said...

Very nice! I wish I could get my dad to work with me on a memoir. He says, "Why would anyone want to read about my life?"
The greatest generation! Anyone would love to read it.

Deborah Dee Harper said...

Wonderful post, Lorraine, and so very true. I'm fortunate that both of my parents (my mom now deceased) have written down precious memories of their childhood years and on into their young adulthood. My dad is 86, but his memory is sharper than anyone I've ever known. He knows I want him to continue writing his memories down so his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and on down the line will be blessed with his thoughts and they way things were back when he was younger.


Lorraine Beatty said...

Thanks everyone. I'm so pleased my post struck a chord. We all get so busy and don't realize how quickly time gets away. If we can capture even a few authentic memories it will be worth the effort.