From My Heart
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Hidden History and ADGD
If Dad writes of memory lane, I write the landscape. Maps, photos, sidebars, history dating back to 1694. I'm currently finishing up his chapter on Little Grandpa, a real character who, before his life was over, created a bit of tension in the family—and sometimes down at the police station.
I MEET A MOOSE
DRIVING SOUTH ON THE AlCan HIGHWAY, I zippity-zipped up behind a double tanker full of liquid hydrogen peroxide. Not so crazy about trailing such a monster, I waited for a straight shot in the road to pass. No sooner had I cleared the truck and gotten myself back onto our side of the highway when another twist in the road took me around a bend, onto about a football field of straightaway. On the 75-yard line ahead, on the other side of the road, a moose. Walking away from me.
Absolute clarity took over my mind.
Fear and Faith and a Squished Banana
My first memory is of fear—and faith.
I am three. The month is May and cherry blossoms are in full bloom. My mother and father and big sister climb the high, very wide steps ahead of me. I dawdle in the hum of bees and a breeze. The door slams shut at the top of the stairs. I startle. I'm alone!
Some Kind of Story
LATE ON THE THIRD AFTERNOON, California’s suffocating heat roared off the pavement and slammed with a punch through Betsy’s open windows. Tresa had her head hanging out again, looking like a fish too long off the ice. Her freckles were turning green too, but I was too sweaty and miserable to bother warning her
Mum plucked her map off the dash. We’d gone west into rumpled and fuzzy hills—looking like Paul Bunyan had shaken his bedding and let the blankets fall willy-nilly—and were now driving north for a change. Clear Lake popped in and out of view on Dad’s side. On mine, the rumpled hills sloped up in waves, thick with yellow grass and spotted through with oak trees, a soft and lazy land I decided—though a bit lonely in the gathering shadows. . .
MEMOIR #3: PICK AND CHOOSE
MEMOIR is not autobiography. Autobiographies are for famous people. Autobiographies rely on the facts of a person’s life to chronicle their journeys to fame, power, wealth, talent, and triumph—like Helen Keller in her The Story of My Life. Memoirs, however, use life to serve a larger theme or idea—like J. R. Moehringer in his memoir, made into film, The Tender Bar. The story is less about J.R. and more about his identity, a bigger issue that drove J. R.’s day-to-day.
Autobiography focuses on Joe Friday’s “just the facts, Ma’am.” Memoir relies on emotions and epiphany. Readers pick up memoir not because they care two hoots about the writer but because readers like what memoirists offer: universal themes and resolution to existential crises.
But it leaves me in writing a memoir with two major problems . . .
Memoir #2: Reflection vs Documentation
MEMOIR #2: REFLECTION Vs DOCUMENTATION
TO WRITE ABOUT OUR "UNRULY PAST" (as Laura Kalpakian names her own delicious memoir!) is by necessity a distortion of "fact" in order to name "truth." Away back when, we didn't have the words needed to name our experience. It's only time, education, and perspective that gives us the articulation we now need to make sense of what was. A memoirist therefore revisits her past with tools to reflect truth rather than document it. Except we run into a few dilemmas.
A first is . . .
Memoir #1: On Making Stuff Up
"Your writing strength is scene, Brenda," so says Laura Kalpakian, a mentor of sorts. "Play to your strengths. You've zipped right through this narrative. What does the courtroom look like? Who's there? What is being said?"
The thing is, I didn't want to overly dwell on my great-great-grandfather and his day in court. I only wanted to establish the faith of grandfathers as a long-standing heritage that both helped and hindered me. Besides, Sarratt, England, doesn't and didn't have a court house. The village is a hole-in-the-wall about 30 miles NW of London and I'm not really sure where the hearing took place. More to the point, do I really want to make a scene of it?
i am engaged
FIFTY YEARS AGO, flu had been going around the small Southern Baptist college I attended. I was ill, running a temperature; nonetheless, I’d been dragged off to church. Sunday night. Halloween. Full moon. Service finally over, the man I’d reluctantly been dating turned off Camelback Road of Phoenix, Arizona, onto the college campus. But instead of driving straight on and taking the road that ran out to the girls’ dormitory, Norris made an immediate right and came to a stop outside the library—a hunkered down building of stone that sat square on its haunches to stare through blank windows onto a circular fountain eerily stark and empty. Water turned off for winter.
“What are you doing?”
Justice and Silence. An Unintentional Lesson.
“Why did you make Santa’s nose that color?” Jerry jeered.
My six-year-old self stiffened, helpless against the red-headed, freckle-faced boy who sat in the desk ahead of me. Daddy had told me Jerry taunted because he liked me. A terrible worry. If boys made fun of you when they liked you, what did they do if they didn’t? I stared at the cherry red crayon in my hand, fire in my cheeks.
“Santa’s nose isn’t cherry!” he sneered. I instantly felt everyone turn to stare and fell to my usual frantic prayer: Jesus, open a hole so I can fall in.
Invisible, no one could hurt me.