Family History or Family Mystery… Why You Should Write Your Memoir

This is my family, the Strothers, at my father’s company picnic at Irvine Park in Southern California. The year was 1952, and my sisters, Cynthia and Kay (The Bell Sisters), had just won a TV talent show, and they were headed off to Hollywood.

We were a scruffy bunch and quite the competitors. It was a day-long contest, family against family in sports from three-legged races to baseball. We should have won…but Dad forgot a small prize he had tucked away into his shirt pocket.   

Since publishing my book several years ago, I have presented at dozens of book signings from California to Canada. I have met so many extraordinary individuals. From these contacts, one thing has become crystal clear to me…EVERYONE has a story to tell.

At the end of my presentations, I ask for questions. Without a doubt, the most common inquiry I receive (after “Are all those crazy stories really true?”) is “How do you go about writing a memoir?”

I love that question. Because, like I said, everybody has a story to tell. Like, the World War ll veteran who told me he met his wife on a small farm in France during the liberation of Europe. 

“We fell in love almost instantly, and it took months of hard work to bring her home to the States.” 

Still married decades later, the herculean task and the fear of being separated from the woman he loved was still fresh in his mind.

Or, the lady whose parents lived through the Dust Bowl in the drought-stricken Southern Plains region of the United States. 

My father said, “Nothing would grow, so we boarded up the family farmhouse and headed west with the tired old pickup stacked high with all of our belongings hefted up on top.”

Still seared into his memory was the sad looks on the faces of town folks they passed by. 

“Loaded down with dirty kids and crying babies, we must have been a pitiful sight to see,” he told me with a hint of sadness in his watery grey eyes.

Then there was the elegantly attired lady who shared the plight her family faced when her father died of typhoid fever, and her mother had to work outside of the home, leaving her to become the mother to her younger siblings.

“In those days, women didn’t work in town. I was barely eleven and had to cook, clean, and care for my three little sisters.”  

Or, the immigrant from Poland who landed in New York City with only a scrap of paper with a name on it.

“I only had an address and a name of a distant cousin. I was excited to be in the USA and terrified at the same time. This person I barely knew let me sleep on his couch until I got on my feet.”  

I heard one story after another, each unique and special in its own way. Some were very dramatic, and others were just the musings of a life well-lived. There were funny and weird stories as well – like paying neighbors in beer to push a piano around the block for your songwriting daughter. Or how you meet a rich man on the bus, and he pays for your college career … and then your sister’s college career when you dropout.

Of course, no one’s life is pain-free. All the folks I spoke with had trials and tribulations to overcome, some more serious than others. But, upon hearing their stories, I felt each needed to be remembered and passed along to family members so they might know more of their history. 

I’m not suggesting that everybody needs to or wants to go to all the work and energy it takes to write and have a memoir published. (Maybe “memoir” sounds too overwhelming. Perhaps your “life story” might be a better description of the project.) I feel confident you won’t regret the decision. When I finished my memoir, numerous family members thanked me for doing it.

My grandson said, “I had no idea all those things happened. Thank you for preserving our family history for future generations”.

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