A to Z April Challenge

During the month of April I will be doing a different spin on my memoir posts. It starts with a song. Each song will be followed by a brief essay that is evoked or inspired by that song. You might want to click on the YouTube link to hear the song as you read the piece I've written. Or you can listen to the song lyrics first and then read. Whichever way you choose, I mostly hope you'll read and leave a comment with your thoughts about my post. Thank you for visiting and please follow the blog if you are not doing so already.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Are You a Storyteller or an Archivist?

Lakota storyteller: painting.Lakota storyteller: painting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

         We all tell stories.  We relate what happened to us at work or school or while out running an errand.  We recount memories of past events as we remember them.   The storyteller gives color to a past event whether or not the facts are accurate.  In many families the oral tradition of the family storytellers is the primary connection to family history.  The stories may be passed down through the generations with names, dates, and facts confused or forgotten.  Some of the stories may disappear entirely from the collective family memory.

          This is where the archivist becomes useful.  Many of us keep photo albums or scrapbooks that record parts of family history.  The serious archivist will label photos or mementos with names, dates, places, and other notes that will help identify what has been preserved.

            Archivists may also retain documents such as marriage licenses, diplomas, report cards, or other such things from parents or other relatives who may have passed.   Artwork, antiques, and other heirlooms can also be part of an archive.   The home of the expert archivist may take on the elements of a museum.  When well organized and displayed, such a collection can be an absolute delight to ponder.

           Then there are the hybrid methods of maintaining historical record.   Some who keep a diary may be simply archiving facts and data as a chronological record, while others may embellish that record by expanding their accounts into stories.  Some blogs do something similar to this.

           The "newsletters" that family and friends often send to others during the holiday seasons are another type of hybrid record that archive the events of the year in letter or story form.  Sometimes we may not care about or even know the people whose lives are recounted in these, but they are all part of a history--our history.

           My pack rat tendencies incline me to keep things like those newsletters, meaningful cards and letters, or other things that might represent some point in the timeline of my life.  I am an archivist, albeit a poorly organized archivist.  Eventually I intend on organizing everything properly, but at least I have many things that provide some clues and records to who I am and who I was.  I am also a storyteller who plans to compile my stories into book form.

            Hopefully the things we save, the archives we maintain, and the stories we record will be one day be appreciated by our children, grandchildren, and generations down the line.   Thankfully many generations of the past had the foresight to do this to give us the knowledge of history that we have now.  Not just the big picture of the history that we study in school, but the little bits of lives of people like ourselves who lived in times before we arrived on this Earth.

            It's human nature I guess.  We want to leave something behind to let others know that we were here.  It's our legacy.   Our archive.   Our stories...

            Are you a storyteller or an archivist?    Or are you a bit of both?   What are some of the things you do to leave a legacy and continue your family story?   Do you think what you are doing will help you or has helped you in writing a memoir?









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Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Crooner: Memoir From Author Barbara Briggs Ward



          My special guest for this post is Barbara Briggs Ward.  As has often been the case of late, I first met Barbara through a writer's forum at LinkedIn.  When I visited her blog and looked at some of the work she is involved with I thought she would be a great choice for a guest post at Wrote By Rote.  The delightful piece that Barbara presents here confirms my supposition.   Enjoy her peek at the past and then be sure to visit her blog The Reindeer Keeper and say hello.  Barbara's author web page is http://barbarabriggsward.intuitwebsites.com/ .  The web page for her book is at   http://www.thereindeerkeeper.com/ .




The Crooner


         When I was young we lived out in the country surrounded by my mother’s side of the family. With four houses in a row all full of relatives, we were constantly sharing meals and holidays together. But many times at those gatherings, my father wasn’t there. Being a funeral director, he was at work, comforting families in their time of sorrow.  My father was very good at what he did. He also provided my cousins and me with a little fun.

         Ever so often in the summertime, he’d drive a big, black transport-of-coffins type van home at lunchtime. It resembled vehicles depicted as getaway cars for gangsters in a Godfather type film. We didn’t care. It made the vehicle all the more intriguing. So while my father was eating lunch, my cousins and I would take the van for a marvelous joy ride out amongst the clover and hay. We told him we’d be careful.  We told him we’d be right back but once we made it over the plank bridge spanning the creek and then up the hill it was a straight shot to the backfields and we went for it! I can’t remember how old we were. I don’t think that old because my mother had a fit.

      Once we were on the straightaway, the fun began. Down came the windows as I stepped on the gas. Our hair would be flying in the breeze as we flew over one bump and then another--turning in circles, dodging trees and shrubs and little creatures that may have been curious. We never wore seat belts but no one did back then. Our heads would hit the top of the van and we never felt a thing. We were free spirits. Nothing else mattered until screeching around that raceway we saw my father in the distance flagging us in. Lunchtime was over. So was our joy ride in the backfields--until the next time.

     Summertime also meant staying up and watching late night movies. I’d curl up on the floor. My father would curl up in his chair and fall sound asleep. He tried staying awake. Sometimes he’d almost make it to the end. This was when it was a favorite movie--meaning one that starred Henry Fonda or Gene Kelly or Rita Hayworth to name a few.  My mother never understood why we’d stay up so late. Looking back, I’m glad we did.

     When graduating from high school, there was a series of events before getting to the ceremony itself. One such event was Class Night. It was an evening of dressing up and mingling with friends. In my case, that included my father. I can’t remember how it happened but there I was in this establishment with my father by my side. But he didn’t stay by my side for long. He became the hit of the evening. You see, many of my friends really liked my father. If able, he’d take the time to talk to them and to listen. It was obvious he cared about what they had to say. Chaperoning was not the reason for his presence. He was there to celebrate the moment with young people he’d come to respect.

      In his day, my father had been a singing waiter. Pennies from Heaven was his song. It was that night too. A friend of mine’s mother once told her what a heartthrob my Dad had been. He’d been nicknamed Nookie by girls in the area. Whenever he was working at a certain restaurant girls would fill the place, including my friend’s mom. So this night when the party got rolling, this friend of mine got up and announced to the senior class that they were about to be entertained by Nookie, one hip crooner. The place went crazy. Although the Beatle-like band didn’t know that song it didn’t matter. My father didn’t need music. Once he started everyone got behind him. He had to sing his song more than once! When my father passed away many who’d attended Class Night stopped to pay their respects. In the course of conversations, that night of long ago was remembered fondly over and over again.

      My father was fortunate as were the families who sought his services. With an ability to listen and a genuine compassion for people, he’d found his calling early in life. Those attributes were spilled over to his role as a father, offering the four of us fortunate to call him Dad little bits of wisdom now and then. At the time much of what he’d say didn’t make much sense. Youth has a way of doing that. But now I realize he was right about so many things. I try not to waste good energy on tomorrow. All that really matters is that you have your health. And yes Dad. Funerals are for the living as I realized during your wake in your funeral home.

     Looking out into the audience that muggy June graduation evening of long ago, I saw my father crying. I understood from knowing him his tears were tears of joy. Graduation, as he’d say, is one of those markers in life just like funerals. For me, Pennies from Heaven has taken on a whole new meaning since his passing.




Barbara Briggs Ward is the author of the award-winning Christmas story, “The Reindeer Keeper”, chosen as Yahoo’s Christmas Book Club Group’s 2012 December Book Selection. She has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Books titled, “Christmas Magic” and “Family Caregivers”, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Highlights for Children.
Find out more and follow Barbara’s blog at www.thereindeerkeeper.com.   Barbara’s Author Page is at www.barbarabriggsward.com.   










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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Time Traveling: A Guest Post by Linda Hoye

        Memoir specialist Linda Hoye returns to Wrote By Rote with some more helpful information about writing memoir.  Linda's previous post can be found here and is worth your time to read if you missed it.  Since that post, her memoir Two Hearts: An Adoptee's Journey Through Grief to Gratitude has been published and is now available from Amazon.  In the following post Linda offers some helpful tips for writing memoir.





Time Traveling

The memoir genre has been described as a story about a slice of life. That slice can be horizontal, taking the reader through several years of the author’s life focusing a specific facet of that life, or it can be vertical, taking place in a succinct period of time.

Regardless of the type of slice, it’s important to be able to convey a strong sense of place and time in the story. Our memories can take us so far but often, especially if we’re writing about events that took place long ago, we need to rely on other things to take us, as writers, back to a time and place in order to convey that sense to the reader. Here are a few things I found helpful while working on Two Hearts.

Dmarie.com. On this site you can enter any date between 1800 and 2002 and get a list of top news headlines, price of a loaf of bread, the average wage, what the popular books were at the time, and, as applicable, the top songs and what was playing on TV and at the movies. You can take it a step farther and immerse yourself in the time by reading the books, listening to the songs, and watching the movies to really put you there.

“It is 1977, almost one year after my high school graduation, and Peter Frampton is begging for someone to “Show Me the Way” on his classic Frampton Comes Alive! album. I am eighteen and appear confident; for the most part, I’ve managed to stuff down and ignore the part of me that feels unworthy and unlovable. I have the rest of my life stretching out in front of me and am pretty sure I know the way and could show Mr. Frampton if he cared to ask me.”

Google Earth. It’s helpful during the memoir writing journey if you can go to the place where parts of the story took place. Standing in the same places, hearing the same sounds, smelling the same smells, and seeing the same sights evokes memories like nothing else. During my journey I was fortunately to travel back to the city where I grew up and the small prairie towns where my roots run deep. If it’s not possible to do this, or even to call to mind the experience after you’ve been there, Google Earth is invaluable. I virtually walked the route I took to school as a child and explored the city I grew in up many times during the writing process.

“I stop at Crescent Park and walk along the paths where memories meet me at every turn—the library where I felt at home as child, down by the river where Lori was once bitten by a cranky swan, the flowerbeds I had paid little attention to as a child but which somehow made their way into my unconscious memory all the same.”

You Tube. Believe it or not I found commercials for toys like Slinky and Spirograph, and TV shows like Bewitched that I watched as a child. Watching them helped me to write about the period of time, but also to go deeper into the thoughts and feelings of little girl Linda.

“We grow up watching Granny Clampett ride into Beverly Hills perched atop a rocking chair in the back of a rickety truck on Saturday nights, and we wonder if Gilligan will ever get off of the island. Lori imagines herself as Zorro and leaves little pieces of paper with a Z on them all over the house. I, on the other hand, want to grow up to be like the cool and confident Mrs. Peel on The Avengers.”
Now it’s your turn. What tools and tips do you use to help evoke a sense of time and place in your writing?



Linda Hoye is a writer, editor, adoptee, and somewhat-fanatical grandma. Her memoir, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude will offer hope and inspiration to anyone who’s life has been touched by adoption. She currently lives in the state of Washington with her husband and their two Yorkshire terriers, but Saskatchewan, Canada will always be her heart’s home.

Connect with her on her blog A Slice of Life Writing, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and LinkedIn.



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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hot Fudge Sundays

Mister EdMister Ed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Favorite MartianMy Favorite Martian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Publicity photo of Jon Provost and Lassie from...Publicity photo of Jon Provost and Lassie from the television program Lassie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)The Beatles performing "Help!" in Au...The Beatles performing "Help!" in August 1965. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)The Ed Sullivan ShowThe Ed Sullivan Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)           When it comes to my days of childhood, I remember Sundays more than any particular day of the week--especially Sunday nights.  Perhaps it was a sense of routine that lasted for years.  Sundays had a wonderfully predictable sameness to them.  There were certain characteristics of that evening that made  Sunday stand out more so that any other days.

             Much of it had to do with television.  I'd be plopped in front of the TV set for the lineup on CBS every Sunday night.  From the time I was a child until my teenage years, Sunday evening would start off with Lassie.  I liked the show more when I was smaller, but it became an obligatory staple as I grew older.

             An assortment of half hour comedy programs followed Lassie over the years.  These shows were among my favorites in television comedy.  There were great shows like Mr. Ed, My Favorite Martian, and It's About Time.  Many were tried, but none lasted more than a few years which was probably for the best.

            Next came the centerpiece of the evening--The Ed Sullivan Show.    This was the the program that drew my entire family to gather around our one small black and white TV and later our 25 inch color television that we finally acquired in 1967.  My father was always hopeful for a variety act, especially a juggling act.  All the greats of the entertainment world were on the Sullivan show.  I was particularly excited to see the appearances of the latest rock artists such the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Jefferson Airplane. Every performer dreamed of one day appearing on Ed Sullivan's show. My father also had that dream.

         Later in the evening, after the Sullivan show, a series of other variety shows came and went.  There was the legendary Judy Garland in her own show.  The late 60s featured the sometimes radical, but always entertaining Smothers Brothers Show and the Glen Campbell Good Time Hour.  The channels were limited back then but CBS had a decent Sunday night lineup that managed to hold my interest for many years.

          The other big feature of our Sunday nights was the hot fudge sundaes.  Often my mother would serve this special treat for us to enjoy as we watched the Sullivan variety show.   She made the sugary hot fudge from Hershey's cocoa powder.  Mixing the cocoa powder and sugar with milk, vanilla, and a dash of salt and heating them into a bubbling hot mixture would render a divine chocolate sauce that was perfect over vanilla ice cream.  With a delicious sundae and a night of good television, the thought of school the next day didn't seem all that bad.

          I haven't had one of those hot fudge sundaes in years.  And now Sunday night doesn't seem to have the same great television that it used to have.   I miss those Sundays and I miss those hot fudge sundaes enjoyed with the family of my childhood.  Sunday will never be the same.





           Do you remember the Sunday night shows of the 50s, 60s, and 70s?   What were some of your favorite TV shows when you were growing up?    Did you have a special night when the family would gather for what became a sort of tradition in your household?    Have you had that granular sugary chocolate hot fudge sauce made from Hershey's Cocoa?








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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Why we write our stories: Guest visit from Christine M. Grote


         Today I am honored to have the very talented Christine Grote as my guest.  Christine is a multifaceted memoirist, photographer, and blogger extraordinaire who can often be found at her blog Christine M Grote: Random Thoughts from Midlife.  In this post she explores that age old question of why we write our stories.





          From the earliest recorded history, human beings have written their stories. We can see evidence of this in the Chauvet or Lascaux cave paintings in France. Before that, people undoubtedly spoke or somehow communicated their stories. We are all storytellers. We share our stories big and small with family, friends, and coworkers, whether they are about the tree that fell in our yard during the last storm or the way our mother died.

        Some of us go a step further and write our stories down for others to read.

        I don't know why we choose to tell or write our stories. There are likely a multitude of reasons. Maybe we want to share our experience to help others learn from it, or to shed light on something unique to us that most people know little to nothing about. Perhaps we want to amuse or entertain. Maybe we just want to be heard.

        When I was in college for the second time around as a 40-something-year-old, we were reading Holocaust literature for a class I was taking. This was very heavy, depressing stuff, and I remember asking, "What can I do for these people and their suffering? It all happened a long time ago and there is nothing I can do now. Why should I continue to read it?" I found an answer in the words of Elie Wiesel, concentration camp survivor and author of Night. He wrote somewhere in an introduction or author's note, and I paraphrase, "You can read our stories so that they will be acknowledged and not be forgotten."  That's what I could still do.

       There are a lot of good reasons to tell our stories.

      I told my story about my sister Annie for many years. People were curious. "Annie was born with severe brain damage," I'd say. "She can't walk or talk and requires the care of an infant." If they had questions, I'd answer them. I told my story because people wanted to know.

      In a creative writing class in 2005, while in college for the second time, I wrote a short story about Annie in which I shared memories of what it was like growing up with a severely disabled sibling. "When I was young, I used to pray that I could trade places with Annie. Maybe we could share our lives. One week she could be in the wheelchair, and the next it could be me," I wrote.

      A lot of things came to the forefront of my mind as I wrote Annie's story. Sometimes we write just to understand.

      I finished the short story for my class and put it in a drawer.

      Then in the summer of 2009, Annie became very ill. Our family struggled with fear and uncertainty about what to do as we helplessly watched Annie suffer. We ended up at the ER with Annie, and then back home again under the care of Hospice with the knowledge that Annie's time here was at an end.

      After Annie died, my desire to tell her story turned into a compulsion. I felt like I had to tell her story. I pulled out the short story I had written for class, collected all the emails I had sent out to friends and family during Annie's illness, gathered medical records from her physician and the Hospice nurses, and I wrote Dancing in Heaven.

      Many times I woke up at 4:00 in the morning with the next part of the story in my head. I got up and started typing with a box of tissues beside me. I struggled and cried my way through many parts of writing Annie's story. But I wrote it.

      I wrote it for Annie and I wrote it for me. On an intellectual level, I believed people might benefit from reading about the self-sacrificing love and care my parents gave to Annie. They set a good example of what is possible. I wanted people to know that even those individuals who are the most disabled among us still have purpose and value on this planet. And I wanted to give my sister Annie, who left no footprint behind, a legacy, that her life won't have been, as my father cried out in anguish, "all for nothing."

     When people read Annie's story, her life is acknowledged and she isn't forgotten.

     That's the best I can do for her. That's the only thing I can do for her.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You can listen to excerpts and read reviews of Dancing in Heaven—a sister's memoir on my blog. (http://randomthoughtsfrommidlife.wordpress.com/dancing-in-heaven/)

Dancing in Heaven is available at:

Amazon.com (print and Kindle) - (http://ow.ly/b9JRY)
BN.com (print and Nook) - (http://ow.ly/b9K1T)
Createspace (print) - (http://www.createspace.com/3609410)
Smashwords (multiple e-book formats) - (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/93539)





About the Author

Christine M Grote earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton, Ohio, in 1979. After working for three and a half years in product development at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, she became a full-time homemaker as she raised three sons and a daughter. In 1999, she returned to school at the College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio, earning a bachelor’s degree in English in 2007. Christine lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband Mark and their dog Arthur.

http://randomthoughtsfrommidlife.wordpress.com/dancing-in-heaven/