I'm in the middle of a biography of my parents. When my parents came to live with me the last five years of their existence, I made one request of them. Write about your growing up. I handed them a bound note book I thought would entice them to write. Daddy, hungrily took the book and went to his office, a separate building in the backyard where he repaired clocks. Mother, on the other hand, put her book in the bedroom saying, "I'll think about it."
In a few days Daddy handed in his book, completely filled with a note attached "Addendum 1 in the works." Daddy not only had florid script, Palmer's best, but a way with words. Sis and I can claim our love of writing came from him. Today those words ring more true to his identity than they did when he handed me the book and announced, "There, that's the beginning." I will write his story soon.
Mother took her time to write. I knew heart strokes erased much of her memory, as her writing covers her youth with her brothers. She dwells a bit about Daddy's family's unacceptance of her. Her mind couldn't get out of her childhood. I knew direct questioning would be the best tact for her.
Time after time I'd sit with her and ask questions. She couldn't understand why I was surprised at her marrying Daddy after six weeks of dating. I held back from then on to make light remarks at some of the experiences she enjoyed: early boyfriends, her poor school grades, life in the big city alone.
My first project was about Mother. I felt I had a better understanding of her after the many talks. Too, she had diaries she kept from time to time in her married life, the letters she wrote me, and notes of our small talks. Together with old snapshots I created Mother's life. I felt good with what I'd accomplished.
I shared the fourteen pages with Sis. "That's not at all what I know of Mother! I'd never have written her life that way. You left out Daddy." I explained I wanted to concentrate on each of them and then their marriage and family. " I'll write about Daddy later," I explained. I wanted some tidbits she remembered about the woman who raised us, paid for our every need, taught us to be independent. We were early latch-key kids before the term originated.
True, we siblings have different views of our parents. Surely some events are shared more than others. Sis sums up her contribution with, "I wrote about Mother in an essay. Find it and use that. I don't remember like you did."
My trouble with Sis was my approach. I should have sat down and discussed each parent and taken notes. I didn't. Don't make the mistake of waiting too long to get your sibs to contribute to family stories. Writing who your parents were and their personalities are components to letting them live in your own children's hearts.
Note: having my parents write in their own handwriting is as precious as ever. In future generations their descendants will admire "the old way" people wrote. Be sure to leave something in your own handwriting, whether it is a grocery list or a note to you.