I began a free class in writing family stories back in September at the local library. The last meeting is Thursday, December 13. Like the teacher I once was, I've given class exercises and homework to 14 adults.
As examples of experiences, I used my own writings, far from being the kind that sells at Barnes & Noble, but my own exploration into my family life. This was done so the participants could see that getting the words onto paper were most important first of all. No editing at this time. We talked about the time from birth through elementary school. By handing out dozens of questions to prick their memories, I've led them through a process of exploration. And I've been surprised how much the participants remember about their early school life. Perhaps it's because they are much younger and still have their memories available.
Once I was told to think of our brains as arranged with "shelves" stacked on top of each other as in a post office. As we experience life the "notes" of memory fit into the shelves. As one ages, the shelves get stuffed and the earlier notes get pushed so far back a person has trouble finding that one experience. Of course, that's not true, but I use that in my thinking about how we shove some memories aside and it takes constant weeding to find some small incident we want to write about.
The reactions from participants has been pleasing. From drawing the floor plan of an early home to mapping or to writing an obituary, the challenges have been enjoyable. A wonderful group meeting for one and a half hours has created the incentive to write now.
Imagine in the 30th century a kid fumbling though a box in the attic picks up a notebook titled "Family Stories". He thumbs through the pages yellowing with age and begins to read. He carries the notebook downstairs and settles into a comfortable chair and flips the pages. Mother walks in and says, "What's that you're reading, Son?" and he replies, "Stories written by somebody named Vivian Newkirk. Who's she?" and his mother says, "Oh, you found those wonderful stories written by your fourth great-grandmother! She lived back in the 21st century. There's a lot to learn about the past, Son, in those pages."