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Thursday, May 03, 2018

Memoirs: The Most Valuable Writing You Can Do.

                                                                                         

                                             







Were you at Woodstock? Were you a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan? Have you worked as a nurse in a trauma unit? Did you march for gay rights? Did you adopt a child? Are you a farmer?


A friend on Facebook told me today that he was bored. He has led an extremely interesting life so I tried to talk him into writing a book....not even for publication necessarily but to get the facts of his life down both for something interesting to do himself and to tell his tale to others.

In fact, I wish everyone would write a book, maybe not an actual book but a memoir of some kind detailing their memories. We think of autobiographies as being about famous people. We know a lot about the lives of our movers and shakers through history – kings and queens and presidents. But I think our lives, the lives of the ordinary people of their day, are even more fascinating.

I’ve been reading on the Wabash County Historical site about a family named Anderson who came first from Culpepper, Virginia and moved to Ohio from there. They traveled on horseback on the rough trails that passed for roads in that era, carrying their child with them. It was such a difficult trip that when they were within two miles of their destination, one of their horses died from exhaustion.

Their son then migrated to Grant County, Indiana. He arrived with a horse, saddle, bridle and thirty dollars to begin his new life. In 1847, he married and four weeks later, his log cabin was complete. He and his bride started housekeeping with a skillet, a tea kettle, one chair and a bed. The nearest town, which is now Somerset in Wabash County, had exactly two buildings at the time – a tavern and a blacksmith shop.

The Andersons prospered and eventually built a large house and raised fourteen children in it.

We know these fascinating tidbits, like what the Anderson’s took up housekeeping with, because someone bothered to write them down. Reading them now, we try to think what it would have been like to live surrounded by wilderness with only a few distant neighbors and under the roughest conditions? Who do you suppose got the one chair?  

You might say, the Andersons lived the American Dream. They started with almost nothing but they worked hard and became solid and well-to-do citizens. Do you think it is possible to do that today?  It was free land that allowed so many pioneers to succeed but we don’t have that stake now. Would many of endure that much hardship for the opportunity?  

I have a book myself, written by my mother’s cousin. It is a story of the family’s history homesteading a ranch in Arizona. She had it published and bound, making a copy for each family member. It is one of my most prized possessions.

Think how you would feel if you found papers, be they letters or a journal or a book, written to and/or by your great-grandmother or grandfather, describing the town (perhaps the one where you still live but 200 or more years ago). How did they farm then and how did they cook? What were they taught in school? Did great-grandpa fight in the Civil War? What made them happy and what did they worry about. What did they do for entertainment?

If you would be thrilled to find such a treasure, then your grandchildren and great-grandchildren would be equally as thrilled to find a trove like that from you. We take our lives for granted because they seem common but they really aren’t.....not to the generations that come after us.

I told my friend to make an outline of the natural divisions of his life – childhood, school, relationships, work, fun. Then just begin filling in the details. I told him to write down whatever he can remember. It doesn’t have to be professional, it just has to be real.

You could do the same.  Posterity will love you for it.   


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