Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Family Legacy and Lore - Writing A Memoir

I am in the early stages of gathering information that will become a family memoir. As with many other people who've written, or are planning to write a memoir, I think my family is worthy of a book-length manuscript.

Where to begin and what to write? My family wouldn't populate the state of Texas, but a small fishing village. We were awarded the largest family plaque at church years ago, before our numbers increased. I've lost count, or perhaps we've opted to stop counting how many grandchildren, great-grand, and great, great-grandchildren my ninety-year-old granny has. The last count was twenty-two grandchildren, and thirty-three great-grandchildren. We are moving into our fifth generation.

Granny originally had twelve children - nine daughters and three sons. Only two of the male children survived beyond infancy. As of this writing, both of my uncles and two of my aunts have died, along with two of my cousins.

I've been reading memoirs, creative non-fiction, and how-to write memoir books, with the express intention of learning from others who've gone before our family.

We have a large family as you read above. The question remains on why should I spearhead and write our story? Writers have written biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs for centuries. What do we hope to impart to a reading public? What makes our stories of breast cancer survival, diabetes, high-blood pressure, gossip, and betrayal unique?

Growing up in my family, I thought there was no end to aunts and cousins who were in every room, on the front or back porch, or in the spacious backyard. We exemplified that the motto that it takes a village to raise child. Sometimes this was a source of conflict among my aunts when commenting upon childrearing skills, or lack thereof.

I used to think that we were a less glamorous version of a nighttime drama. The women in my family were determined to raise boys who'd become strong men, with varying degrees of success.

Granny's house was kid central for children in the neighborhood. We'd play hopscotch in the street in front of her house using chalk from sheetrock we'd find here or there, dodge ball, or hide-n-seek at night.

I remember climbing the pecan trees in the backyard for my aunt who made the sweetest pecan pies, or just cracking the shells with my teeth, careful not to choke on the chalky fragments. There was a treehouse, clubhouse for our bicycles, and camping outside when some of us joined the Cub or Boy Scouts.

We temporarily had a horse in the backyard, Jenny, who broke free and escaped down the street after a neighborhood boy pummeled her with rocks. We were told horrible stories of her ending up as glue, especially scary for our young minds when it was time to buy back-to-school supplies: Elmer's Glue.

Granny Gums has been the family matriarch for as long as I remember. I don't remember my uncle who drowned on his high school field trip, or my grandfather who had a heart attack on the front porch swing, both within two months of each other in 1973. I remember my uncle who was a cook in the Army, who'd park his white mobile home next to the front window in driveway. I remember the plastic-covered furniture in his living room in Augusta, Georgia, where he'd relocated to after his tour in the Army.

We have to sort through what we remember, and what would be interesting for others to read. I know everyone in the family won't participate, or be happy with the finished manuscript.

I have a few memoirists on my winter 2007-2008 reading list: Augusten Burroughs, Nick Flynn, Mary Karr, Jeanette Walls, and Tobias Wolff. Each one writes differently, and focuses on specific aspects of their pasts. We're not setting out to write Roots, but a compelling story that others will enjoy, share, and perhaps learn something about our lives.

1 comment:

sharon said...

Hi--Just found your blog. I'm a teacher in Harlem, currently teaching a class in writing the college entrance essay & wanted to take my students on a field trip. I would love to bring them to some kind of event/show/art exhibition/etc that deals with memoir in some way shape or form.... was wondering on the off chance you could recommend something?
Many thanks,