Late one night recently, CNN aired a program titled “Pandemic.” I’m thinking, “Oh no, not more of this COVID-19 stuff! Well, guess what? It was not about this pandemic, but the 1918 one.
Some night your kids or grandkids are going to hear about “Pandemic 2020-2021.” We are now, each of us, living in a time of historic importance that will be the subject of conversation, on and off, forever, examined in minute detail by people not even born yet, kin to you and everybody else who lives through this. Think how exciting it would be to them to read about how you personally survived it? Well, here’s your chance to be immortal in the hearts and minds of those who may never have the opportunity to know the person you were. I’m talking memoir again here.
So, how’s it coming? Your memoir, that is. If I can do it with just a high school education and a single creative writing class in junior college, anybody can do it. Now, ‘fess up. Like me, you’re just sitting there at your computer in your PJs. Time to start hammering away at it. Maybe I can be your geriatric cheerleader encouraging you from the sidelines – remotely, of course, because of my bad knees.
You need more inspiration? Have I got inspiration for you.
Recently our local paper published my article about memoir writing. Dec. 20th, a woman replied with “Welcome Journey Down Memory Lane.” If you have access to the e-edition of the Highlands News-Sun, read it.
Dorothy Smalls of Lake Placid has written what seems, to me, a masterpiece of simplicity! It is everything you want a memoir to be. All your senses are engaged in what, at the surface, may seem like a simple telling of an ordinary tale. It is much more than that. You can smell the sawdust on the floor of the butcher shop. You can see the powerful ice man muscling that big, glistening block of ice into the kitchen, grunting as he lifts it into the wooden ice box. You might even remember Saturday night baths with homemade soap, a galvanized tub, warmth from a wood-burning stove. Sounds like ancient history, right? Well, these now seemingly primitive activities were still common in the 1940’s and even later.
Dorothy writes that every store was closed on Sunday while all churches were always open for anyone who needed to pray or talk to God. Now the stores are open and the churches are locked.
I will try to contact Dorothy Smalls to express my admiration for her writing. I want to know what else she has written. I cannot believe this is her first attempt at memoir. If it is, there’s hope for the rest of us.
Memoirs are as different as the people who write them. Some are violent like the “blood and guts” memoirs of war time. Some are gentle journeys through a time gone by. Unlike biographies written by somebody else, memoirs are the ‘real deal” by the one who knows it first hand — because he lived it. In the writing of memoir, we may gain invaluable insights into why we do what we do, why we feel so strongly about some things, nothing at all about other things. What triggers our emotions?
Here’s an example:
I have always had a passion for beautiful shoes. In a recent frenzy of pandemic-fueled sorting and tossing, I finally gave away all the beautiful shoes I can no longer wear due to various mobility limitations. Giving them away was surprisingly painful. ‘Why is that?” I asked myself.
Well, during my early childhood, I had but one pair of shoes at a time – usually clunky, brown shoes, so heavy and ugly, worn without socks, chafing my skinny ankles. I tearfully protested they looked like “boys’ shoes.” Maybe they were. Possibly they were – horrors – maybe even second-hand shoes bought on the cheap. My mother reminded me I should be grateful to have any shoes at all since I had been sent home from school with a note saying I could not come barefoot to school. Shoes were only for school. On all other occasions, I went barefoot.
I yearned for a pair of white patent-leather Mary Jane shoes with delicate white socks edged with lace at the ankles ... pretty girl shoes I had seen in a magazine. I would try to wear out my “boys’ shoes,” scratching them on purpose on the coral rock road that ran in front of our house. Then some company came out with shoe polish called “Scuff Cover” that could make any shoe look new again – and my fate was sealed. I was never going to have pretty shoes.
Being able to afford beautiful shoes is a small thing but, even in childhood, it was a symbol to me of a better life beyond my reach. Thoughts like this are the demons we don’t even realize we are carrying around inside us. Let them out. Get it on paper. Tell future generations about this worldwide pandemic you lived through. Share with your children, your grandchildren what helped you survive this unimaginable time, what strengths you drew on. You may never choose to publish but, in the telling, the writing, we come to understand ourselves – and put the demons to rest.
Miss J.L. “Sam” Heede is a resident of Spring Lake.