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"The Favorite" - Grandfather and Gra...

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Do you think your life is too humdrum for a memoir?

Dave Eggers, in The Autobiographer’s Handbook1, emphasizes one reason you should write: “…because you will someday die, and without your story on paper, most of it will be forgotten.” (p. 1)

He says we strive to preserve the world’s history from antiquity on for future generations, but we’re “strangely casual” about our own history.

What do you know about your family history? Probably a story or two from your parents or grandparents. As generations pass, those stories will be lost.

Think about your life today. At home. At work. In the world. Your descendents may read about the latter in a history book, but where will they read your take on today?

As I read Dave Eggers’ reason to write, three “documents” came to mind: my grandmother’s poetry, my father’s “Seven Major Decisions,” and my mother’s diaries.

With thoughts of military families now, I perused these documents for references to WWII. I’ve read the history book account, but immersing myself in their words gave me much more: a strong sense of their faith, courage, and character.

The poem, dated 1945, my blind and deaf grandma wrote when my dad returned from WWII: “And to Him alone the glory / Who led him home again. / Now children it is bed time / And don’t forget to pray / And thank our God in heaven / That daddy’s home to stay.”

On my dad’s decision, as a father of five, to enter the Army as a chaplain in WWII: “For over a year I had been visiting each young man [in my congregation] as they were leaving. After appropriate devotionals, we had lunch, took movies [16mm films], and they left me with my ‘God blessing you.’ ‘Why not follow’ stuck in my throat.”

One of my mother’s diary entries in 1944: “…cleaned the house. Called on Mrs. H…. Daddy came home!!!”

What would you prefer? History book? Personal stories? Both?

As a former nursing professor, I’m partial to nursing stories. I’ve passed on a few in my career memoir, Caring Lessons: A Nursing Professor’s Journey of Faith and Self2. Nursing faculty are beginning to use it for their personal development and in their classrooms as a textbook. So I’m developing a study guide. Going through my files this morning for ideas, I found a questionnaire on study habits I’d taken as a student nurse in 1960:

“Do you recopy notes taken in class so the notebook will be neat?”

“Do you sometimes write letters during a lecture hour?”

“Do you keep your boyfriend’s picture on your desk?”

No, no, no. But I did marry that boyfriend and will be forever in love with writing, reading, and telling stories. Will I use these questions? No, but they would be fun to share with the students of today.

What about you? When you die, what will happen to your words?
1 Traig, J. (Ed.). (2008). The Autobiographer’s Handbook. New York: Henry Holt.
2 Roelofs, L. (2010). Caring Lessons: A Nursing Professor’s Journey of Faith and Self. Sisters, Oregon: Deep River.