Category Archives: Memories

My Story/Your Story/Our Story of 9/11

9/11 image with statue of libertyThe tenth anniversary of 9/11 has come and gone.

It is one of those shared moments that each of us remembers differently. I was putting on my running shoes. The television happened to be on.  I  called my friend and told her a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. She started to ask where we were going meet for usual 45 minutes of exercise. “Turn on your television,” I told her and for the next 45 minutes we watched together, talking on the phone the whole time. We caught the moment when the second plane hit.

My husband had gone to Boston on business the Monday before. He wasn’t schedule to return until Friday. All week he kept thinking they’d get the planes flying by Friday. Saturday morning he started driving and was glad he had a car–any way to get home. Took him two days. When he went to turn in the car in Boulder, Colorado, the place was a mess, cars being turned in from everywhere, more than the local car rental place could park in their parking lot. Confusion. Frustration.

My husband and I remember 9/11 as an inconvenience–an ongoing inconvenience every time we fly. There are worse stories. There are families who lost loved ones that day and families that continue to lose loved ones to the wars and aftermath of the clean-up.

Events that everyone remembers are anchors in time. I’m old enough to remember the Kennedy assassination, the events of 1968, and watching the first man to walk on the moon. What are the anchor events in your life and that of your family? Are they written down?

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Filed under Event, Family Stories, History, Memories, National Story, Story pegs

Celebration of Quilts, Dump Cake and Hard Times

quilt exampledump cake recipeIf someone in your family hasn’t reminded you of  The Great Depression lately, you haven’t been listening.

I have an quilt that my mother found among some old things and gave to me. From the fabrics, I already know it was made in the 1930s, when everything, including fabric, was precious. From the workmanship, I know it was hastily made. Not all the pieces match. It’s a common pattern, thirty star blocks, predominantly yellow in color. The charm of a handmade quilt is that it’s make-do made art. Since most of us have had to make-do, at one time or another, we know it’s one thing to handle hard times with grace and another to handle them with style. Taking scraps of material too good to throw away and turning them into quilts has to be one of the higher expressions of make-do.

Dump-cake is another example. The recipe that has came down in my family is actually quite good. If hard times include dump-cake, I’m not likely to whine. Of course, the recipe assumes you have a jar of fruit sitting around. Canning your own fruit and vegetables is also an art that not many of us do any more.

My mother is sure we’re all going to have to learn those old skills again. She sees a root cellar in every back yard. Hope not, I like my deck and umbrellas. However, I do have a compost box.

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Filed under Family history, History, Keepsakes, Memories

Family History: Mark Twain Quote

mark twain photoIn his newly released Autobiography Mark Twain argues that the usual cradle-to-grave account of one’s life makes less sense than our meandering memories . . .

“The side excursions are the life of our life voyage, and should be, also of it’s history.”

Mark Twain

In other words, tell me, instead, about the day the circus came to town or how you fell out of the apple tree or why you like oysters.

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Filed under History, Life Story, Memoir, Memories, Uncategorized

Family History: The Antelope Horns in the Garage

Antelope PhotoA friend apologized for not stopping by my Open Studio–an event in my town when artists open their studios to show off their work. His excuse? He’d taken his grandson hunting and he’d bagged an antelope, his first. My friend, I could tell, was excited to have shared that rite of passage with his grandson. Tops anything else he could have done that weekend and made me wonder about the antelope horns in our garage.

I knew they were from the first antelope my husband bagged as a teenager, growing up in Twin Bridges, Montana. Who had shared that moment with him? His father was sixty years old when he was born and close to eighty when he was a teenager. Besides, he was the only pharmacist in that small town, meaning he worked six and a half days a week, hardly ever taking a vacation. He even worked the morning he died. Not likely he’d gone with him. My husband never knew his grandparents nor had any close uncles. Young boys don’t learn to hunt on their own. Why had I never thought to ask? The horns obviously meant something. They were polished, mounted, ready to hang, and had been packed and unpacked for every one of the dozen moves we’ve made during our marriage.

So I asked.

Turns out that his father hired someone to teach him the fundamentals of hunting, but he didn’t like the guy. So mostly he hunted alone. His mother would drive him into the hills and wait while he went out with his gun. He got an antelope and a deer that way before he gave up hunting to go to college and has never returned to the sport.

Often we don’t even know the stories of the people closest to us, unless we ask, unless we wonder . . .

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Filed under Family history, Family Stories, Memories, Why Stories?

Family History: What’s Your First Memory?

cats in boxMost people remember events tied to a strong emotion, smell, or some other sensual detail. That’s especially true of first memories. Mine is a box of kittens my father brought home. I was two and a half, maybe three-years-old. I don’t remember why he had a box of kittens, where they came from, or whether we kept them. What I remember are the sensations–the fur, the claws, the smells, the sounds, and how they squirmed when I reached in to touch them. I remember laughing.

My whole life I thought I was a cat person. Dogs annoyed me. A cat purred and snuggled. Dogs jumped up on you with dirty paws and needed to be taken outside regularly. Unfortunately, I married a dog person. He grew up with dogs, loved dogs, always wanted one. I delayed and delayed, but that only works so long. Eventually he got his dog, which quickly turned into two dogs, both Great Danes. When people ask how that happened, I tell them I made him wait too long–the dogs grew larger and multiplied. You know, like unattended problems.

Turns out I’m a dog person. The bed is never empty. The house is never lonely. Bring on the slobber and the face-licks.

Question is: Would I have been a dog person earlier if my first memory was a puppy? That’s not an idle thought. We shape our sense of self from the stories we tell about the things we remember.

great dane dogs

Want more examples of first memories. Check out www.yourfirstmemory.com, a blog featuring videos of people telling their first memories. Interesting project.

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Filed under children's stories, Family history, Family Stories, Memories, Why Stories?

Truth Better Than Fiction OR Vice Versa?

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” William James

And who isn’t wise enough to gloss over a few things when we tell our stories? Ah, but where is the line between applying a little wisdom and telling a story that never happened?

Movie poster Julie and JuliaI will confess that I loved the movie Julie and Julia, about Julia Child and a cooking blog by Julie Powell. I liked the idea that the movie was based on real events. That doesn’t mean that I expected every single detail to be true. That never happens. My husband and I can come home from the same dinner party and remember the evening entirely differently. Everything we do is colored by memory, expectation, our differing feelings and experiences. Not to mention whatever wisdom we’ve applied to the things we’d rather not recall. book cover Julie and JuliaNevertheless, when I picked up the book Julie and Julia and read the disclaimer that parts of the book had been fictionalized, I put it down again. As a reader, I didn’t want to wonder which parts.

logo The Daily BeastThe following article from thedailybeast.com argues that some true stories are better as fiction. I agree. I also like memoir. Mostly I want them to be clearly one or the other. However, wisdom aside, even that may not be as easy as it sounds. See what you think . . .

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-01-19/why-some-memoirs-are-better-as-fiction/?cid=topic:featured1

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Filed under Life Story, Memoir, Memories, Movie, Personal Narrative

Stodgy Vs Story

I had a great aunt whose idea of entertainment was to bring out the family photographs and carefully repeat the names, “This is cousin So-and-So.” A man’s wife was always “Mrs. So-and-So,” never a first name, who was called something else before she was married and something else after she re-married. Of course, Mrs. So-and-So was related to someone else I was supposed to know . . .. I was worse than bored. I grumped and slumped until my great aunt finally excused my bad behavior saying “very likely I was just too young to remember.”

Hardly.

I also had an uncle who twisted nursery rhymes into ribald limericks. Since no one would explain why they were funny, I had to remember them until I was old enough to figure it out on my own.

Mary Had a Little Lamb imageMary had a little lamb

She tied him to a heater

Every time he turned around

He burned his little peter

will run through my head the rest of my life.

Names and dates don’t stick: never have, never will; but, once in awhile, my great aunt got distracted and told me something interesting, like the fact that one of my ancestors was a Viking pirate. Of course, when I asked to see a picture of him, she didn’t have one, which meant she was forced to fill-in. “Our family came from Denmark, not the regular part of Denmark, but a little island off the coast with a hidden cove—a favorite Viking hideout. There were pirates plundering nearby ports from that little island far longer than from the Barbary Coast,” she claimed.

Viking Ship Picture

Turns out that’s mostly true, but, even if she was still alive, I doubt she’d be impressed by the fact that I’ve been to that little island, checking out her pirate story, among other things. She was less about truth and more about application. When she told a story, she made sure it made a point.

“We are luckier than pirates,” she told me. “We have so many new things, such wonderful inventions, these days a pirate wouldn’t know what to steal.”

Turns out my great aunt also kept a journal. She names her first boyfriend, Alonzo Eckersley, and tells how they spent one summer together:

Every night we would take a ride on my horse and then dream dreams of what we were going to do in the future. One night his dog was poisoned. Both of us surely did cry.

She doesn’t say what happened to Alonzo. Instead, she shifts to how she went away to board for high school. She lived with a family named Stewart and took piano lessons but didn’t like making music. She names her best girlfriends: Mildred Rhule, Grace Ritchie, and Ruby Ward.

photo of young women and 1922 automobileThey had a car and so did I. We had a good time that summer with all the boyfriends! I guess there were too many boyfriends because I got so I hated them all. They were all alike, how disgusting, and they all acted and talked alike.

The year happens to be 1922, but the tale is timeless.

We take photographs, sometimes feverishly, trying to hold the moments that matter, but, nearly always, when I tell someone that I’m gathering the family stories, I get a puzzled response, as if that is not a task for the serious. Names and dates on genealogical charts, fine. Copying the family photographs, encouraged. Stories? Why stories?

Because two pages of her journal were enough to change my impression of a stodgy old aunt.

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Filed under Family Photos, Family Stories, Life Story, Memories, Personal Narrative, stories, Uncategorized, Why Stories?