Memories and Memoir:
My Memoir History:
My memoirs didn’t begin as memoirs, but answers to prompts in a class I was taking.
A prompt I don’t even remember inspired a short piece about the battered dining room table I stashed in a room for messy projects. That table led me to memories of the misery we’d suffered during dinner times as I was growing up. As I later wrote in Untangling:
Each evening my mother cooked furiously to meet her concept of a 50s’ schedule. A proper wife should have dinner on the table at 5:00. We wouldn’t eat without my stepfather and Harold didn’t usually roll in before 7:00, his cheeks ruddy from Rochester winter and two hours at his favorite watering hole. He sat at the head of the table and from this throne-like position began, “Remember that house I was going to close on? Well, __________ (fill in the blank with any number of his competitors) stole it right out from under me.” My stomach pretzeled with each complaint.
When I read the piece aloud, I felt the power of memory stir inside me and my fellow writers responded in a way they hadn’t before. I didn’t know it then but I had found my genre and the book I wanted to write.
An image taken from a short memoir written by my mother titled Am I blue?
The only photo I have of myself with my father
At the time of that class, I was sorting out how to care for my mother whose dementia plagued both of us. Returning to memories of the past and connecting them with the future gave me clarity and finding just the right descriptions to express them gave me pleasure.
I wrote of the event that bound my mother and me forever, my father’s death.
I have no idea how old I was when my mother began her tales about my father’s death. Over the years, she told various iterations. Imagine my shock when she began, “You were almost an orphan.”
“Yes. I hardly ever traveled with Pete. I don’t remember why I went to Virginia with him, or much about the trip,” she said, “I know Pete was tired of staying in hotels alone. Then, suddenly, he decided I should go home to Rochester and you. He dropped me off at the Richmond airport and was killed twenty minutes later.”
“How?” I whispered.
“It was a foggy night. An accident with a truck. Someone ran a stop sign, either the truck driver, or your father. There were no witnesses.”
My Memoir History:
I believe my mother had a gift for storytelling and I wonder now if she lost herself in words as I do when I write.
After my father’s death, my mother took occupational tests that could point her to the next phase of her life. The outcome was more curious than my mother could have imagined and her story seemed so to me.
“I have something very interesting to tell you,” the examiner told her when the results came back. “The only person who ever scored higher than you in musical aptitude was Leonard Bernstein. What instrument do you play?”
“I played the piano when I was young, but I don’t play anything now,” my mother said.
As she told this story, I thought of a picture tucked away in our attic. My mother, at nine or ten, sitting on a piano stool. Her ringlets and silken poufy-sleeved dress shone even though the photograph was a grainy black and white. She sat alert, her fingers poised above the keys. Her eyes glanced at the camera like she’d been pulled away from her playing. A tune still stirring in her brain was calling her back.
My mother making music magic.
Currently I’m rewriting Untangling decided to turn to social media Every week I read an excerpt. It keeps me on-track and gives me a lot more writing joy than writing the proposals and queries I’m developing.