During last year’s coronavirus lockdown a friend nudging 80 years of age started writing her memoir to ease the burden of isolation. It wasn’t because of any sense of impending doom, nor any major health issues; just that she felt the need to share some of her personal history with her teenage granddaughters who live interstate and are busy negotiating their own lives.
My friend is a published author and teaches senior citizens creative writing skills at the local community centre so I wasn’t really surprised with this development. What did astonish me was the snippets of information she wrote about in short bursts and of only about four or five paragraphs in each section of her life story. Snippets such as how her parents came about choosing her name (from an Academy Award-winning movie from that year) and how there were trenches in the playground of her Brisbane primary school in which the pupils had to practise hiding at the sound of an air raid siren during World War II.
None of the information was startling, though it sure was interesting. It made me wonder how her grandchildren would find the adventures of this young vibrant woman back in the day, given they only know her now as their older, sedate grandma who cooks, writes books and is prone to bursts of songs from popular musicals.
The Love Of My Life’s mother has had an interesting life as a teacher and farmer in small town Tasmania. A rich history runs through the veins of the family, and although older and frailer, this old woman remains an avid storyteller and a link to the past. Thankfully, her family have made notes about her many escapades so the stories wont be lost when she eventually leaves us. Important things, like how to cook a goat or a peacock.
I have neither the time nor the talent to write any memoir though I have become interested in leaving some personal history for my own daughters. This is most likely because my mother passed when I was young leaving few memories, and my father, ex-Bomber Command and Pathfinder, was very much of the stiff upper lip mould and always spoke in the future sense, never the past. Sadly, all grandparents were gone before I was born.
I’m looking at creating more of a ‘personal history’ over future days. Far less structured than a memoir with absolutely no plans to publish, I intend to leave some notes and photos in an exercise book to assist my grandchildren to better understand their roots. Things like where their middle name came from and why we read particular story books together.
There are even books that you can purchase with pages of questions to answer already in them. For example, which school did you go to or what was your favourite subject? Did you know that you can even download pages from websites with prepared questions to help you keep a record of your life?
Not only is a record of your life a gift to those who come after you. It provides context for and gives voice to your experiences within the time you lived. Your family will cherish this gift for generations to come.
And remember, you don’t have to call yourself a ‘writer’ or know much about creative writing techniques to write a personal history. Spelling and grammar mistakes are okay. And whether the stories are ‘interesting’ enough is no big deal either. Your children and grandchildren or other members of your family will love anything that gives them a better picture of your life.
I’ve started my journey. Small steps only. One topic a week of only about four or five paragraphs in a lined exercise book. I’ll include a list of some of my favourite music albums from the 1970s or maybe tackle that eternal question of my kin — why do I have so many Errol Flynn movie posters hanging on my walls?