How and Why You Should Write Your Memories

Reader Contribution by Mary Conley
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Dear friends,

I am not a writer. I know because I’ve read good books! I am a blogger, though, and I’m just now getting used to saying that. For a long time when people complimented my blogging, I always felt as though we were talking about a third person. In today’s post I want to tell you about how I first started writing. It was a few years ago, and my goal was to record several stories about my childhood for my children. I think you should, too, and I’ll soon tell you why.

“Not me,” you say? You can’t spell or punctuate or you don’t have good sentence structure? Doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you get it down and in your own words. You don’t want your story to sound like someone else’s life, anyway. How do I know? I read it in a book, and that is what gave me the courage to start. I also know from the following experience:

I received a fairly lengthy note from my sister-in-law, Wilma. A FIRST! It was a rare thing, indeed. I felt so privileged that she had written to me, I was nearly floating around the house. Then my husband, Larry, started reading it, and pointed out the errors. It made me so mad. I didn’t care about those errors; I was just happy that she had written to me. Furthermore, because she had written in her own voice, I could just about hear her talking to me as I was reading her note. I treasure it!

Back to the “why” you should write your stories. Again, learning from experience, it is bound to be so much more than just passing down your life to your children. The act of writing, itself, may become therapy. For free! At least it did for me. It helped sort things out and made me realize something very important.

My family was wonderful in many ways, and very dysfunctional in others. What writing did for me was to revisit even the difficult times. I often stopped my typing to wipe the tears. Sometimes, I sobbed through it, or discontinued until another day. Then, I eventually applied forgiveness where needed. One of my stories was a letter I wrote to my dad, talking it all out. In the end, I told him I forgave him for all his anger and the sadness it caused. This may seem ridiculous since he was already dead, but it helped. My big surprise, though, was how I realized all that my parents had sacrificed and done for me. What started out as writing some of my childhood stories for my children, turned into gifts for me of forgiveness and thankfulness.

Maybe you don’t want to put yourself through any of those emotions. Well, don’t write those stories, then. I didn’t in the beginning. Tell your children all the fun and happy experiences you had. You’ll find yourself smiling as you type! I wrote about my dolls, playing on the railroad track, the arrival of baby chickens, riding our pony, being sent to the principal’s office, girls’ basketball, typing class, 4-H, Mom sewing all my clothes, adventures with my cousin, Gary, and many more. If you can’t type, don’t give up before you start. Your family will inherit your very own authentic handwriting. My recollections range in size from just a paragraph to three pages.

1956/57; my memories of playing six-man Iowa girls’ basketball.

I’m quite sure ideas are popping into your head right now while you are reading this. Quick! Jot the topic down and you can get back to it later. One memory will most likely trigger another and soon you’ll have a whole list to work from. Larry “plans” to write his childhood stories, and he often mentions that he wants to tell about how the boys played marbles at recess and every chance they got.

I do feel I should warn you about something else I read in a book. Someone, probably a sibling, will tell you that your story isn’t accurate. It may not be, since everyone experiences things differently, especially if you were very young. Don’t let your feelings get hurt. Maybe they are the ones who don’t recall the details correctly. Don’t worry about it. Memories are just that, what you remember, and you can tell them so! Hopefully, you’ll enjoy reminiscing together.

One more thing: Don’t forget to write about your emotions. I learned this from Larry’s mom. She left a diary which we all read. It had a little historic value, but was completely devoid of any feelings concerning the situations, even when their house burned down. Not only was it boring, but it left us with so many questions. One could get the impression that they didn’t have emotions back then, similar to how the old sepia portraits make us wonder about our ancestors. I remember my elderly Aunt Golda telling me that after stiffly posing for those lengthy sittings, they would all burst out laughing! Ever since she shared that memory, I visualize it whenever l see one. Can’t you imagine those sober, colorless people transitioning off the photo paper into a fit of laughter?! Don’t make your readers wonder. Capture the emotions of what happened. They want to know you were a real live human being with feelings, just like them! Are you ready to begin?!