It has been said that when an old person dies, a library is burnt to the ground. And the metaphor is appropriate. A long life of experiences, love, laughter and knowledge becomes inaccessible. Gone forever, unless – unless those stories, experiences and earned wisdoms are preserved by the written word or by our modern electronic recording devices prior to the passing of that elder.
We, the seniors in this new millennium, grew up in a world that no longer exists. Now I am not just talking about old coots like myself. If you are over forty, the world in which you went to school and grew up is gone. The world of the Commodore 64, before the proliferation of cell phones, before the internet, Blackberries, IPads, eBooks and all the other stuff that fills the pockets and backpacks of today’s students. Life was different for you.
Your kids can’t equate to that world, can’t imagine not having instant access to communication with their friends, carrying all of their favorite tunes and games in one pocket. They can’t imagine that in 1987 we complained about gasoline prices raised to about 90 cents per gallon, that’s less than 25 cents a liter. Houses were bought and sold for less than $90,000. Brian Mulroney was our Prime Minister, Regan was the US President and Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s Prime Minister. The loonie was first introduced to replace paper dollars. Much of our music came on tape “cassettes”. The big hit song for that year was “Lady in Red” by Chris de Burgh.
Remember those years? I’ll bet you can think of a lot of great memories from that time; things to which the current young generation cannot relate, events worth telling.
If you are of my vintage, the world that we experienced might as well have been in another plane of existence. Even for me, now, it is hard to realize that such a time existed as the thirties when people raised a family on wages of $35.00 per week, a new house cost around $3,500, gas was 10 cents per Imperial gallon, a new V8 sedan was about $600, you could buy bread at 8 cents per loaf, hamburger was 11 cents per pound and you could rent a whole house for $22 per month. Bread and milk were delivered to the home by delivery men driving horse and wagon. The “baker” as we called the delivery man, offered buns, cakes, pies and tarts as well as bread, and most new homes had a “milk box” built into the wall near the side door for efficient early morning delivery by the milkman. If you splurged and went to a restaurant, coffee, tea, soda or milk cost 5 cents, a full meal might run as much as 45 cents and a nickel tip meant something.
Then there were the war years, when so many men disappeared from the Canadian towns, many never to return. We had shortages, rationing, salvage drives, Victory Bonds and stamps. Does this bring back memories? I’ll bet that there are so many stories of those years in your life that would astound your children or grandchildren.
Now I am not going to suggest that today’s kids are going to sit quietly and listen to your stories of yesteryear, or that they will immediately pick up your written notes and eagerly commit them to memory. Hardly likely! But there will come a day when they will think of you, your different viewpoints, your likes and dislikes and they may wonder about the past. Hopefully, it will happen when you are still around to answer their questions, and if that is the case, a memoir will help you to draw a better picture of the days of yore. But if the interest arises when you are some distance from them physically or on the next plane of existence, your record of your life experiences will help them to understand you and thereby know more of their own history.
There will probably come a time when your younger generations will wish to search for their roots. They will want to know who you are and who you thought you were. What can you tell them? You can start with your childhood experiences in that strange world of the past. Who were your friends, what games and sports did you play, organized or not, what were your successes? Tell them of your family, dad, mom, siblings, grandparents and others. Perhaps they have met and knew many of them, but they did not know them as you did. Tell them of your work experiences, loves gained and lost, lessons learned, the fun and the tragedies, the pride and the regrets. Whatever comes to mind is worth writing.
“But I am not a writer!” I hear the complaint and reply “You can be.” No one is asking you to be a Hemingway or a J.K.Rowling, just write. “Writers write.” And that is the full definition of a writer. Just think of the stories that you would like to tell your children and future generations and write them down just as you would speak. You don’t need an editor. You don’t need to check grammar, punctuation or spelling. Just write, getting down your thoughts as fast as they come to you. Write as you would tell it face-to-face. Set aside some time to write regularly, and as you travel back in memory in one story, other story ideas may pop up. Keep a separate note pad handy to jot down a reminder of them for later writings.
After you complete each story, read it out aloud at least once, alone or to an interested audience, while you keep a pencil handy to make alterations. This will be your first and perhaps the only step in editing. If you wish to have someone else go over your writing, checking for grammar, punctuation and spelling errors, pick a positive friend. Only allow editing of those things: grammar, punctuation and spelling. Remember, this is your story in your own voice. Perhaps someone else could use other words and phrases to make the story seem more concise, but then it may not express your own character, and this is your story about you.
There will come a time when your young family members will want to know who you are (or were) and just how your personality has affected their own lives. Your memoirs written in your own style of speaking will help them understand. And there will be benefits for you as well. If you write honestly, leaving yourself open to recall past visual impressions, thoughts, and feelings of pride or regrets, love and losses, you can relive it and perhaps learn more about yourself. It can be quite an experience.
John Bell, a retired businessman, moved to Prince George, British Columbia to be near his daughter and her family in 2007.
He volunteers as a radio host on 93.1 CFISFM with two shows: “Those Old Records” Sundays from noon until 2:00 and “The Storytellers” Mondays at 7:00PM.