Copyright Rita Watson
Source: Copyright Rita Watson

Serendipity and synchronicity seem to follow me when I take time to listen, ponder, and look around. Recently I began converting my Providence Journal columns into a memoir: Italian Kisses: Grandma’s Wisdom. With the holidays upon us, I recalled another memory through the gift of a poinsettia. Then a video arrived from a nephew telling me of a children’s story, Hugo the Huguenot, and Hugo’s journey from France to New Paltz, NY.  And from that video, I realized there are many ways to preserve family history for our children, our grandchildren.

Although anyone can create memories to treasure, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson at the University of Minnesota pointed out the emergence of the memoir as a distinct field of study. Reading Autobiography – A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives / U of Minnesota Press.

While we can look at memoirs today as creative non-fiction or simple family remembrances, in fact another way to tell your story is through a children's book.

Copyright Matt Kelly 2016
Source: Copyright Matt Kelly 2016

I chose to tell my story though newspaper columns. Jennifer DuBois Bruntil choose an illustrated history to tell her children the story of their relatives, early settlers in America. She is a direct descendant of Louis DuBois, one of the first people to come from France and settle New Paltz in the 1600's.  In attempting to fashion the story for children -- as a School Program Coordinator -- and to make the story more compelling for children,  she began collaborating with illustrator Matt Kelly.  Today Hugo the Huguenot  is close to meeting its Kickstarter goal.

The Italian Vignettes

My Italian memoirs started as remembrances each month. During the early beginnings of my book in progress, I became encouraged sharing family stories at a memoir writing workshop I taught at an assisted living center in Providence, RI. Using a photo as a prompt, the octogenarians created a mini-memoir in just one hour each week.  I did almost no editing, but later framed the stories with Life Enrichment Director Karen Ferranti of Wingate, previously EPOCH.  These are seen in Memoir Writing Bridges Past and Present/ Psychology Today.

Using videos and short essays to savor a memory:

Videos are another means of capturing a memory. With smart phones it is just an image away. At family gatherings, encourage people to begin talking about a holiday they experienced while growing up.  As the conversation becomes animated, take out your phone and explain you would like to ask each of them to tell of their favorite memory. Most often people will readily comply.

Keep in mind that older family members may see your suggestion to tell a story as an invitation to discuss something within their past that they have been unable to talk about.  We see in "Let Me Tell You a Story" the value of a journal as therapy in the Duke journal, Pedagogy

If this happens, instead of discouraging the person, to keep the mood light, you might say,"Your story is too important for this moment.  Let's find a quiet spot so I can focus and catch every word."

It is helpful to begin the story telling by suggesting, "Today is a day of gratitude. Let's all think of something for which we are grateful." Our father often passed a composition book around during holidays asking us to “write something nice."

At his memorial service, few people talked of his whirlwind life as Frank Sinatra's sound consultant. Instead grandchildren shared stories of the man whom they called “Poppy.” Today, they have memories to treasure.

Copyright Rita Watson 2016   (www.ritawatson.com)

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