Saturday, January 31, 2015

Is Age Muddying the Waters of Your Memory?

English: River Deben saltings Muddy creeks fil...
River Deben saltings Muddy creeks fill up at high water but the salt marsh is rarely covered. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       According to Greek mythology, the dead drank from the Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, so they would not remember the life that they had recently left.  Sadly, some of us as we grow older begin to sip on those waters of forgetfulness in the years before we leave this Earth.   In some cases it is the afflictions such as dementia or Alzheimer's that can muddle the mind, while others may stay sharp and cognizant into a very old age.  For others it may not as much of an aging thing as it may have to do with poor diet, use of mind-altering substances (alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs either prescribed or recreational), or other memory deterring factors.

        Memory can be a tricky thing that is highly unpredictable.  There are people who tend to be forgetful throughout their lives.  Memory training can be an answer that might help and even certain vitamins, minerals, and other substances have shown to be effective for some.  So far there is no exact science that can perform memory magic for everyone.  There are probably as many variables regarding memory as there are people.

         What are the implications of memory loss for those wanting to write memoir?   The answer is pretty obvious:   For the memoir writer, memory is most of the content.  If the memories aren't there then there is no memoir, but the written work becomes something else entirely.  If the memories are faulty then the memoir is unreliable and potentially a work closer to fiction than anything of historical value.

         Anyone interested in writing their own memoirs someday would do well to begin now.  If you have been thinking of writing your own memoir and have not been keeping track of life then the present is the time to be recording that which tomorrow will be the past.   Journals or diaries are invaluable resources for the memoirist.  These along with scrapbooks and photo albums are the obvious first choices for recording life stories.  Here are a few more for you to consider:

  • Make a time-line--A loose leaf binder or a word document works best for this method.  Starting with your birth date, record your life by years filling in highlights and significant events as they come to you.   You can keep going back to add to this as memories come back to you.
  • Create a personal folklore--When I was a kid my mother would tell me stories about when she was a child and I did the same with my own kids.  Children love stories so why not get creative with your own life and leave a legacy for your kids.  It's like money in the bank.  When you need to withdraw the memories you've forgotten then maybe your kids can help by retelling the legend of you as they remember hearing it.
  • Assemble the artifacts of your life--If you tend to accumulate old memories, why not organize them in a logical sequence.  Write down what they represent and if they aren't dated already, try to record the date as close to what you can remember.
  • Talk to family and friends--Conversation is typically an enjoyable pastime for most of us.  Use those times for probing the minds of others as to what they remember about the family history and make notes that will help put pieces of your life in better perspective.  You might even inspire a collaborative family history project.
  • Read modern histories--We all have memories of the current events that occurred during our lives and often those events have had impact on us.   What did we do in response to various events and what did we think in those times?   History books and documentaries can touch parts of our lives that we may have forgotten.
  • Record a personal documentary--This can be done with audio recordings or even better by video.  You can do this yourself or recruit the help of someone with good equipment and editing skills.  Use all the resources you have on hand to add images and sound bites.  It's best to write the script ahead of time, but the interviews can be improvisational and edited later if necessary.   If you want to do a higher quality job, hire a professional life documentarian.  There are a number who can be found online.  This will be more expensive, but what a great keepsake for you and the rest of your family.  This is a nice gift idea for Christmas--you can have one made for a loved one whose memory you would like to help preserve or have your own life story made with copies to be distributed among those who would like something like this.
      Now is the time to save your own life!  And by that I mean to document your life and your memories for posterity.   Once you have everything in order and still want to focus on writing true memoir--snippets of your life story or the impressions that certain parts of your life left on you--the full overview of the story makes the ideal resource to use for your reference.

        Don't wait until age or some catastrophic mental loss has taken away your memories.   Put them down on record so they won't be totally forgotten.

          What are some things you do to help you to remember the details of your life?   Have you tried any of the suggestions I've made here?    Do you have anything about the life of a friend, someone in your family, or some other person significant to you that was left in your care?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Margo's Gift

Hand-made dolls.
Hand-made dolls. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

      Celebrating might not be exactly the way I'm looking at it, but I've got a birthday coming up on Friday January 30th.    That next year of my life seems to come along annually on that same date and I haven't figured any way to slow down my aging process.  I won't say how old I'll be on this next birthday, I'll just say it's an age that I once considered old.  Funny, it no longer seems old to me anymore.   My body might be creaky now, but my mind still seems young as it ever was though maybe a bit more wary and conservative.

       My wife is planning on taking me out for dinner for my birthday.   That's it--no parties for me and that's fine with me.  When I was a kid I expected a birthday party.  After I entered adulthood the parties were kind of cool if they happened, though to my recollection I don't think there were many of those.   Now a birthday dinner with my wife is enough.

       Thinking back on birthdays I was remembering parties that I had when I was a kid.   I recall having them, but I don't remember any of them specifically and I don't remember any of the gifts that I received at those parties.   Well, there was this one birthday.   It was my thirteenth birthday if I remember correctly.  We were living in Crown Point, Indiana and I was in junior high school.

         During that time of my life I didn't have too many close friends and most of my school friends didn't live in the neighborhood where I lived.   Several friends and school chums were invited to my birthday party, but only a handful showed up.   One of those was a cute blonde girl who lived in a house on the next street over from where I lived.  I could see her house from my bedroom window.  Her name was Margo.

        Margo must have gone to the same school that I did, but actually I don't know.  I didn't know Margo that well, but I wanted to know her so I told my mother I wanted to invite her to my party.  From what I'd heard, Margo came from a blended family.  She had a step-sister who was about the same age as she was but that girl was kind of mean so I avoided her.  But Margo seemed sweet, quiet, and intellectual.   Maybe it was the glasses she wore that made her seem smart, but I couldn't say for sure whether she was smart or not.  All I knew was that she was cute.

          On party day I was thrilled to see that Margo was among the few guests who showed up.  Trying to remember now I don't recall anything about what we did at that party or who else was there.  I just remember Margo.   Being very shy with girls, I'm not sure that I even spoke to Margo, but I was thrilled to have her at my party.

          Then came time for me to open my presents.   Now so many years later I couldn't tell you what gifts anyone gave me except for the gift from Margo.  No one said anything at the time, but I'm sure the other kids thought it was an odd gift.  Later my mother pointed out what a weird gift it was and that essentially her mother must be pretty cheap to have sent along such a gift with her daughter.  To me though it was a wonderful gift.

         What I found in the crudely wrapped package that Margo handed me was a simple little homemade doll made of cloth with a face drawn on it.  It was almost more like a beanbag than a doll.  I think it's quite possible that Margo had made it herself since it was so simple.  The doll was accompanied by a "birthday card" that was a piece of white paper with a message scrawled in various colors of crayon.

             To my recollection the message said something to the effect of:

               This little man will always be with you
                To bring you luck and protect you.
                 Always keep him near.

          For years I did have that little man and the card.   I've since lost track of the doll and the card.  The doll is probably gone, but I have a feeling that the card remains somewhere among my packed away momentos.  Most importantly I remember that cute girl who gave me the gift.  She is only a vague memory since I don't know that I ever saw her again after that.   I'm not sure what happened to her--I think she moved away a short while after that party.

          That little man stayed near for a good while.  I can't say that he gave me good luck or protected me in any way, but I've had a blessed life.    And that little man has always been with me in my memory.   Maybe a dumb cheap gift in the eyes of some, but it was a meaningful gift to me.

Thanks to Angela Brown for reviving this memory for me.

          What gifts have been the most memorable to you?     Has there been a person who meant something special to you whom you never got to know like you might have liked to?    Have you ever given another person a homemade gift that may have seemed strange to others?   

Saturday, January 17, 2015

No More Phone Calls...

Lois K Jackson
April 11, 1929-November 21, 2014

        When you let old routines fall by the wayside it can sometimes be difficult to get back on once familiar schedules.    I've been away from regular posting on this site for nearly two months now so I figured that I might try to get things cranked back up again on Wrote By Rote.   Hope readers start drifting back to this site and I can offer you some interesting stories and topics.

        For anyone who might not be aware, my mother passed away on November 21st of this past year.   She'd been going downhill healthwise for the past year or more and I'd been expecting her passing for some time.  I'm thankful she gave us as much more time as she did though I know it was rough for her.   She wasn't anxious to go and put up a good struggle.  But as such things go she had to give it up eventually and the time was right for her.

         My mother had turned 85 on her last birthday on April 11th.  She had told us that she had expected to die in her 85th year since that was when both her mother and her one remaining sister had died.  Thinking on it now it seems rather uncanny that they all died when they were 85.  I don't know if it would be considered a coincidence or destiny or something like that, but that's just the way it turned out.   I kept telling her that she was going to make it to 100 and she went along with that to appease me I guess, but apparently she knew better.

          Now she's gone and I feel that empty place in my life where I can't call her on the phone each morning like I used to and I know that she's not going to call me if I didn't call.   She'd do that.  If I couldn't call her for some reason or was just late in doing so, she'd call me to see if everything was okay with me.   Even though I was an old man in my 60's she still worried about me.  I was her kid and I suppose she still felt some motherly obligation to take care of me.   Like most parents she probably had that fear that maybe she'd outlive me.  I don't think any parent wants to be around when one of their kids die.

          So the situation for me now is that I don't have that go-to person to fill in the family history gaps anymore.  Oh, I have my sisters and maybe even my brothers, but they don't remember a lot of the things my mother remembered.  We'd have discussions about who did what and where our family was at such and such time.   She'd fill in the blanks when I forgot names of people in the past and I'd prompt her with my memories that would stir up memories of her own.   We had a good time telling stories and reminiscing about days gone by.    Mothers can do stuff like that just about better than anyone.   And now I don't have that.   It just seems odd.

        After she passed and I was back in Tennessee staying at the house where she and my youngest sister had lived, my sisters and I dragged out boxes of our mother's stuff to sift through them and try to fill in missing puzzle pieces.   She had kept just about every card anyone had ever given her and we started playing a game to see if we could guess who had sent which card.    We poured over old photographs dredging up whatever we could remember about them.   My sister Joy found a treasure trove of old letters and read them aloud to us.  Some were letters from my father before they had gotten married.   We stepped into a time machine made of paper and ink and went back more than six decades.  

        We laughed.  We cried.  We listened with interest and occasional puzzlement as the letters revealed stories that we had never heard or perhaps had heard only in pieces.   There was the voice of my grandmother's sister--my mother's aunt--crying helplessly from a nursing home wondering why she no longer heard from any other family members except my mother.   There were the many condolences at the passing of my father in 1990.  We had no idea that so many people had written to my mother to tell her how much my father had meant to them.

          My sisters and I talked about how maybe someday we could compile all of these letters into some kind of book or family history.  There is a fascinating story to be told in all of the cards, photos, and letters.  For now Joy will keep these until we figure out what to do with it all.  There are stories to be told and our mother is not there anymore to help us figure it all out.   Now it's a matter of playing history detective on our own.   I can't pick up the phone and call my mother when I need an answer.  There are no more phone calls...




Friday, December 19, 2014

Deja Vu: Remembering the Past

        The Deja Vu Blogfest has become an annual event hosted by D.L. Hammons.   This is the time when bloggers can rerun a neglected or favorite blogpost from the previous year in hopes that more will see it.  In the case of Wrote By Rote I also have an opportunity to try to reach more people who might not be familiar with my memoir blog.   I hope you enjoy today's look back and that you will return to read future posts.  My regular posting schedule for this blog is each Saturday.

Tee and Cara   "Keeping Track"  (1968)

     --a note about the music:  Tee and Cara's As They Are is one of my favorite albums.  Sadly it did not gain the recognition it deserved although I guess it now has a minor cult status.  I hope you will give it a listen.  I was tempted to use every song on it in my A to Z series.

Keeping Track of Time

         I've always thought about keeping a diary.  Those historical records like the diary of Samuel Pepys who famously chronicled London life in the 1600's fired my imagination when I read excerpts in high school. Anne Frank's diary has inspired many with her harrowing story of living in hiding from the Nazis.  Many movies and literary works have used the diary as a device for telling a story.   Keeping track of the events in my life in written form has often been something that I felt that I should do.

        Yet, I never seemed to be able to keep up a momentum to maintain an ongoing  record of my life.  I would sometimes start.  I'd get a journal or composition book having all the best of intent to faithfully start a diary.  Then after an entry or two I'd forget to write in it, eventually stopping altogether and stuffing the diary in a drawer.

        During my senior year of high school and into my first year of college I faithfully kept a dream diary.  I recorded my dreams in great detail and still have those notebooks to this day.   But that was not exactly my real life.  What happened during my waking hours is now mostly hazy memories if remembered at all.

        Life journal entries are something I tend to start writing when I'm depressed or when some negative event is hanging over me.  During my separations from my first and second wives I wrote a lot.  Sometimes I'd write about my days or I'd write about my feelings.   There were many songs and poems inspired by my hurt and sadness.  I suppose my creative writing qualifies as a form of journaling since I was digging from the depth of my emotions.

          In the summer of 1971 I embarked on what was to be a grand hitchhiking tour across the United States.   Each day I recorded in detail the aspects of my adventure and my impressions of the places that I had been.  There were many pages of writing for this journey that was cut short to a mere month of travel as opposed to several months.   A decade later a briefcase that contained this journal and many other writings was stolen when someone broke into my van in the Holiday Inn parking lot in Greeley, Colorado.  My grandest attempt at journaling probably ended up in a dumpster somewhere with many details of my memory gone with it.

          Like prayer, journaling is something I tend to do more of in times when I'm downcast.   I'm better with prayer since it's easier to say a quick "thank-you" now and then.  Writing takes more effort and time.  When I'm having happy times or good times there is little time for writing about it all.   Time just flies by pleasantly and usually the things I have to show for those experiences are of the nature of photographs or souvenir mementoes related to whatever I was doing at those times.

           Hurt and sadness gnaws long and agonizingly on the heart, mind, and soul.  Those are the times when you have to tell somebody what you're feeling and often that someone is yourself.  I've often turned to writing to sort out my feelings.  Somehow maybe I can find answers by writing.   Or at very least express my frustration or even rage.   Happy times often don't permit writing and pondering.  These are the times to live in the moment and hope to remember the experience.

           Keeping track of time can be tedious, meticulous, and self-indulging.   Or at other times keeping track of time can be quickly scribbled notes that are lost or unintelligible if not expounded upon quickly.  Time goes faster than any of us can adequately ever keep track of.     I suppose if I kept track of all the time in my life I wouldn't be doing that much actual living.

            Do you keep a journal of your life events?    Did you ever faithfully keep a diary in your past?   How do you think journaling life events can help you or others?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blogging Break

I'll be taking a break on this blog for a while as I deal with a family situation.   Please watch for my return here in the next few weeks.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Obituary for My Mother Lois Jackson

Lois Jackson, 85, died Friday morning November 21, 2014 after an extended illness.
She was preceded in death by her husband Robert Lee Jackson who passed in 1990 and her companion of 15 years George Lechelt who passed in 2012.
Lois leaves five children:  Robert Lee and his wife Betty with their children Dan, Ada (spouse Tom Zdanowicz), Diana (Jeff Bowen), Emilee, and Angelina; Joy and husband Jim Melchionda; Joni (whose late husand was Jack Katon) and daughter Jamie (Barry Habel) ; Jay and his wife Hallie with their daughter Cynthia (Sean Baxter);  and Jeff.   Six great-grandchildren include Marley, Hallie Jane, Lillee, Grace, Celeste, and Madisynn.
Born and raised in Morgantown, WV, Lois was the daughter of Paul and Lessie Trevillian.   She attended West Virginia University where she met Bob Jackson, her husband of 40 years.  They moved to Maryville in 1966.
Lois was a dancer whose specialty was acrobatic and tap.  After having met Bob who was a popular basketball player at WVU and a juggler, the two married and  put together an acclaimed juggling act that eventually included their five children.  They performed throughout the United States for four decades.
Ever the congenial hostess, Lois welcomed visitors into her home and was much beloved by her many friends as well as friends of her children.
Funeral arrangements are with McCammon-Ammons-Click.   Friends are welcome to join the family at a graveside service at Grandview Cemetery on Tuesday November 25, 2014.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Watertown: Sinatra's Forgotten Album


         My middle school years were spent at Merrillville Junior High in the northwest corner of Indiana.   We moved there in October of 1963 right before John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the Beatles hit the American shores to make modern music history.   I was a socially awkward kid in the transition between my much beloved childhood years and the intimidation of growing into my teen years.   Music was one of the many refuges I had to escape the insecurities brought by growing older.

         Since my earliest childhood I enjoyed listening to the music from my parents' record collection.  They had eclectic tastes that ran from pop, easy listening, classical, early rock, and odd selections such as compilations of bullfight and circus music.   The variety of styles they listened to shaped my own musical tastes so that I had a broad appreciation of all styles of music.

          Having spent her late childhood and early adolescent years during the Bobby Soxer Era of the 1940's when Frank Sinatra was the idol of many young girls, my mother was a Sinatra fan.  There were always some of his records in my parents' collection.   I too became a Sinatra fan and he became one of my favorite artists.

          During my junior high years I don't know how many of the other guys were listening to Sinatra, but I frequently listened to his music on the portable stereo in our family room.   My feelings would turn to romance as I'd listen to his songs about love.   I'd listen carefully to the lyrics of great songs like "Moonlight in Vermont", "I Can't Get Started", or "If I Had You" and occasionally try my hand at writing similar types of lyrics.  For a while I dreamed up a running James Bond type spy story in my head that was inspired by Sinatra songs.  The music of Sinatra fueled my imagination.

          Eventually the rock music of the 1960's won me over and that became my passion. Sinatra songs like "It Was a Very Good Year", "Summer Wind", and "Something Stupid" would continue to show up on the hit charts and I was happy to hear them played on the radio.   My mother continued to buy new Sinatra albums that I would listen to and enjoy.  Then, after I had started college, my mother received an 8-Track of the latest Sinatra album offered by the record club to which she belonged.   The album was Watertown.

          As soon as I began listening to the album I was hooked.   Sinatra's familiar style and phrasing was all there, but there was something striking about the songs.  For one thing the series of songs told a story, not in the way that a musical would, but it was more like reading a book or watching a movie.  They were excellent songs and I liked every one of them.    Watertown became a favorite tape that I listened to often.

           I tried to get some of my friends interested in the music, but none of them were Sinatra fans and the music didn't strike them as much as it did me.   It didn't matter though.  I continued to listen often to the tape until eventually it must have stopped working like 8-Tracks were notorious for doing or maybe it just disappeared.   The music was now etched in my mind and I often replayed the songs as I remembered them in my head.

           Years later I tried to find the album on cassette tape, but it was nowhere to be found.  Watertown never did go over much with the public so it was not in general release.  What was to me one of Sinatra's best albums was among his least popular and faded into obscurity.  It had attained critical acclaim when it was released, but it didn't get many sales so apparently the record company saw little reason to re-release it on newer recording formats.

          While researching my Battle of the Bands post at Tossing It Out I ran across some additional reasons that I liked the Watertown album so much.   This album was Sinatra's experimental foray into a more modern rock influenced sound.  Indeed, he had already recorded some albums that dabbled in rock sounds and popular hits like the Cycles album of 1968.   Besides Watertown being a concept album in the song cycle tradition, the songs were produced and co-written by Bob Gaudio who was one of the main creative forces behind one of my favorite groups in my junior high years--The Four Seasons.  Also on board with song lyric credits was Jake Holmes who wrote the song "Dazed and Confused" which was popularized by Led Zeppelin.

           Though the Watertown album has the fine backing of an orchestra, there is also a greater emphasis on a more rock-sounding ensemble of drums, bass, and guitar, giving the songs a bit more punch than preceding Sinatra albums had.   Later covers of songs from Watertown as recorded by groups like Cake and Bomb Dawg show how adaptable to rock the songs are.  Though not truly rock, Watertown put Sinatra on the cusp of an edgier sound while keeping him in the comfort zone of what he did best.

          Please be sure to visit Tossing It Out to vote for your favorite version of the song "What's Now Is Now" from the great Watertown album.

          What is your favorite Frank Sinatra album?   Do you think Sinatra's music will continue to be appreciated by many in the future?    What were some of your musical faves when you were a kid or teen that most of your peers would have been unlikely to listen to?