A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

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...