Write it Down
My stepmother is writing her memoirs. In fact, she is not just writing her memoirs, she is actually reliving some of the best moments of her life and loving every minute of it. Mind you, this may never be a publishable product, but it doesn’t matter. She will always love it, her daughter will always love it and she will have it forever. And the stories from her life will have a voice.
I’ve never written a memoir and I have a deep, abiding respect for anyone who does. There are some amazing moments in my life, sure. My wedding, my children’s births, etc. But there are those times in my life I would NEVER want to relive. Being dumped, having a car accident, the death of a friend by suicide. Yeah, not sure I want to write about THAT stuff just now. But it doesn’t mean I never will. Just as my experiences are important for my kids, the knowledge and experiences of my parents has become so much more valuable to me.
For instance, I have lost all four of my grandparents. I never knew my maternal grandfather, he having died shortly after my parent’s wedding. But, by all accounts, he was a multi-layered and fascinating man. From my mother I have learned he was a pugilist in her native England. From my father I learned that he ran the equivalent of a numbers racket in their London hometown. I knew my maternal grandmother, Nanny, since forever. She was funny and opinionated and my favorite story, she carried about two ridonkulously large purses. Because she needed to lug around so much crap, one bag couldn’t hack it. And she smoked cigarettes and constantly let the ash elongate with the threat of dropping on the carpet. From an early age, we learned to say, “Nanny - Ash!” before it tumbled to the ground. She would make a face and when the ash dropped anyway, we would cackle like maniacs. I miss her.
On my father’s side, I knew both grandparents. Grampa, as I remember, was curmudgeonly. He drank seven and sevens and smoked prolifically. My fondest memory is of him sitting in the worn-out armchair (think, Archie Bunker) with one hand around the ubiquitous highball glass, and the other just dipping into his breast pocket for his pack of smokes. When I got older, he didn’t move much from that seat, or any seat he chose, but it didn’t matter. Any family gathering sort of orbited around him. Like, he was the center of our universe and we were inexplicably drawn to him. And if you are thinking he was our rock, you’d be dead wrong. Grandma was.
Grandma was nothing short of amazing. She bore nine children on a farm in North Dakota. She raised them all with good humor and Catholic values. My father was the oldest. She watched all five of her boys join a branch of the armed service, and all four of her girls marry military men. In the late fifties, early sixties, those were the ways you got off the farm. She sent three of her boys to Vietnam, welcomed all of them home, and started collecting grandchildren early. She never forgot a birthday, she loved all nineteen of us grandchildren equally, and her favorite thing to do, back when we were all older and BIG drinkers, after hearing us all stumble in at an ungodly hour, giggling furiously, was to get up out of bed, storm into the kitchen, and throw the most enormous breakfast together we had ever seen. Those drunken, loud, unruly breakfasts are my most favorite memory of her. Oh, that and her ants on a log. (giggle if you know what I’m talking about).
But I digress. I want to make a case for the memoir. Right, so I’ve never written one, but I know the value of one. Since all my grandparents are gone now, their stories went with them. I don’t want that to happen again, so last Christmas I gave both my mother and my father blank life journals. I am encouraging them to write their life stories down. I want to know them, and share them with my children. Every family is different. Most think that their family is the most dysfunctional. Prove it is! Prove it isn’t! Just write it all down. I think, it’s possible, your kids may thank you for it. I know I will thank my folks. If I ever get them back. Um, excuse me now, I have a couple phone calls to make.
Samantha Combs, Author
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