When I retired, I joined a memoir writing group. The ten members of the group meet weekly for six weeks, three to four times a year. My mother was my inspiration for writing a memoir. Mom wrote her memoir in 1991. She and a group of friends took an autobiography writing course offered through a senior citizen program at their local community college. She had the memoir photocopied and bound with a plastic spiral binding. At Christmas, she proudly made gifts of copies to my sister, my brother, and me, to her grandchildren, to her three sisters, and to each of their children. Mom was so proud of her book. In the last years of her life, she enjoyed showing her book to caregivers and others, all of whom found her story amazing and who commented to me about how much they enjoyed reading it.
In 2006, I became interested in Web design and developed a personal Web site. Mom died at the end of October that year. In the process of developing my Web site, the idea of including Mom’s memoir along with old family photographs would be a good way to make the family story available to my fourteen first cousins and to a growing number of first cousins once removed.
I began by entering the text of Mom’s memoir into a Word file. I inherited all of Mom’s photographs, many of which are stuck (literally) to those old stick on photo album pages in binders. Envelopes and old shoe boxes are filled with other loose photos. I began going through the photos, scanning those of interest to me and passing on the originals on to others interested in having them. The daughter of a cousin asked if any of Mom’s photos included pictures of her grandmother, a younger sister of Mom’s. I found several and passed them on with pleasure.
The Web site got built, but maintaining it and keeping it current is a bigger job than I expected. As for the online version of Mom’s memoir, the Word file is as far as I got.
The availability of online publishing applications may have changed that. Without a large enough portion of my own memoir to test, it occurred to me that the Word document of Mom’s memoir would make a perfect trial run. I pulled up the file and loaded it into blurb.com. Learning to use blurb’s BookSmart application is easy. Next, I added photos that I had retouched and resized in Photoshop.
I was fortunate to stumble on to a blurb webinar about formatting a book with photographs. I got excellent advice on layout and adding photos to a manuscript. The result is a beautiful 7-inch by 7-inch book with black and white photographs that I will give to my daughters, grandchildren, niece, and nephew.
Through the memoir process, I’ve learned that every family’s story has as many versions as it has members. My family’s story has three versions: my sister’s, my brother’s, and mine.
Each of us sees our family’s story through the lens of our position in the birth order and our status in the family system. My sister is two and half years younger than I. Her version of the family story might reflect her position as the middle child and her status as the only girl in the family. My brother, five and a half years my junior, no doubt would tell a story emphasizing his position as the youngest child, the baby of the family, and his status as Mom’s favorite.
As the eldest, for many years I made it my job to keep the record straight, a failing strategy often ending in harsh words and hurt feelings. Becoming aware of the importance of personal perspective led to understanding that the family story is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong. What is important is sharing the family’s stories. Telling our own story is like looking into a mirror and describing our reality reflected in the glass. Our story is how we see ourselves, as we are, as we were, as we want to be seen or remembered. Our individual stories are individual strands in the fabric of the family’s story.
I am grateful to Mom for her inspiration, but especially for her creativity and interest in providing all of us with such a loving gift. Her memoir is a tangible reminder of who she was, where she came from, and what made her the extraordinary woman she was. Her story affirms my love and respect for members of my family I had the joy of knowing, especially my grandfather; it adds depth and dimension to the lives of family members who I know only through stories about them. I am certain Mom would be pleased to see the expanded version of her story.