‘Thanks for Writing it all Down’
That was a message from my granddaughter after she received the family history I wrote. I couldn’t have asked for a better response. After all, the primary audience for Carrying On was my grandchildren--Anna, Jacob, Sheldon and Eliana.
I had decided to write Carrying On because it occurred to me that when I became a grandmother, I also became the keeper of the family stories--the only one in my children’s and grandchildren’s lives who could answer the questions--the who, what, where and when of people they had never met but who they were connected to by an unbroken line of shared genes and relationships represented by the family tree.
I began with the idea that I wanted to find that moment in time when my parents and grandparents, and my husband’s parents and grandparents, became who they were. But I quickly realized that there is so much more to what we become than can be identified by any one moment. There is what is going on in the world, the family dynamic, the genetic configuration, the life experiences, and more. What a challenge! How could I possibly write about all of that in one little book?
After letting possible approaches percolate in my head for a while, I did what often works for me ¾some words of wisdom I learned in a photography class: “Isolate and simplify.” In this case I isolated what it was I wanted to convey to my grandchildren--that they had come from a family defined by the way they Carried On, through health, sickness, loss, upheaval and the many challenges of a world that was constantly changing and shaping their lives. And what was the simplest, most effective way for me to get that message across to children whose ages ranged from 8 to 20?
“Just tell the stories,” I said to myself. After all, that’s what we writers do, isn’t it?. We are storytellers--artists really--who draw pictures of people, events, conflict, resolution and mystery, not with paint on canvas, but with words on paper. I began mining my memory for the stories that had been told to me. I asked others what they remembered. I went to Ancestry.com for the hard facts: Dates of births and deaths, nationalities, residences, occupations, talents, travels, connections. I spent endless hours going through pictures, letters, clippings and cards that had been packed away in boxes and envelopes for years.
Then I wrote, and wrote, and revised and revised, and worried over telling it just right. The Muse Crew, my treasured writing group, took me by the hand, encouraging me and prodding me to dig deeper. At the suggestion of an editor, who reminded me that my grandchildren might be even more curious about my life than they would be about the lives of people they had never met, I added a section about myself. I wondered when I would know that it was finished.
Then, miraculously, one day I woke up to a finished book. I had done what I wanted to do. I had brought my ancestors to life for a younger generation, with the hope that they would someday use my book as a starting place to continue the story. Then a funny thing happened.
I realized that in “writing it all down” for my grandchildren, I had gained a new understanding and appreciation for my family. They weren’t famous in the larger world. They hadn’t invented anything, performed on any stage, written any best sellers or were written about by anyone else. What they did was live productive, thoughtful, honest, committed, creative lives, carrying on through many challenges and, for the most part, providing a positive example for those who followed. There is no doubt that understanding their lives has enriched my own. So Anna, Jacob, Sheldon and Eliana, I’m glad I wrote it all down too!
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