What’s the value of a life story? The answer to that question probably varies greatly depending upon whom you ask. If you ask my nearly 92-year-old grandmother, she would say, “No one wants to hear about my life, you’ve heard all the stories before.” But if you ask any one of her eight grandchildren, fifteen great-grandchildren, or 7 great-great grandchildren, the answer would be a drastically different one.
My maternal grandmother has outlived her husband by almost 22 years, and her daughter by 15. She lived through the Great Depression, worked in a factory during WWII while the boys were overseas, and was a mother of baby boomers.
She remembers where she was when JFK was shot, and when the towers fell. She has experienced joy, and suffered tragedy. She is a rock.
Our grandparents’ generation has lived through amazing periods of history, seen unfathomable technological developments, and holds unlimited wisdom, but the thing about amazing stories is that if they aren’t recorded, they die with the teller.
Local author Jean Ardell has recognized the need here, and is running a memoir-writing class at the Main Library on Tuesdays through March 13.
And Berteil Mahoney, an instructor at the OASIS Senior Center, is doing her part to help preserve these amazing life histories. Beginning on Feb. 21, she will be teaching a course entitled “Memoir: Writing Your Life Stories”.
The description of the six-class course reads, “Everyone has stories to tell. A memoir is the story or stories of a life as told by the person living it. In this workshop, participants learn qualities of good memoir writing, read and discuss published memoirs, and write in response to a variety of prompts. This class will help participants recognize their stories and discover a personal writing voice, style, and purpose.”
As proved by the recent popularity of television shows like “Who do You Think You Are,” a reality show that leads celebrities on journeys through their family history to discover stories about their ancestors, we are all interested in where we came from, and who came before us.
While searching through parish records and newspaper clippings can lead us to interesting stories, how much more vibrant are the tales when told by those who were there, rather than being cobbled together using inference and supposition?
Whether you are still creating stories to tell, or quietly enjoying your twilight days, now is the time to record your history. Take a class, or just take a moment each day to share your story, I promise there is someone who wants to hear it.
I can assure you that I would treasure a memoir written by my grandmother, even if she thinks her stories have lost their shine. She is a witness to history, she has lived a life rich with experience, and since I am the daughter of a mother who passed away prematurely, she is my last link to that part of my family. Stories of my mother’s youth as well will die with her.
At her age, the opportunity to hop on over to the senior center has passed. She will not be taking any classes, or most likely, writing any stories, but she can still tell them. Even after more than three decades of having heard her stories, I am still hearing new ones. Like a sponge, I am trying to soak them all up. I will become the keeper of the tales, sharing them with family, and hopefully not mangling them too badly.
One day, I will write them down so that my children’s children will know how amazing their great-great grandmother was. Hopefully, I will have some stories of my own to add – new chapters with new wisdom to pass on, though I can‘t imagine ever having anything to tell that will stack up to what I have been privileged to learn.
For more information on the memoir-writing course, please see the Recreation and Senior Services page at www.newportbeachca.gov.