Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Learning From Memoir

Slice of Life Challenge, by the Two Writing Teachers blog:

March 9, 2011

Learning from the past - writing about things from my family's past - teaching memoir to students

The group I'm teaching is studying memoir now & today was the first lesson. I wanted them to take away several things about memoir in this first experience: I will write with them, they already have memories that will stay cemented in their brains for the rest of their life, memories/events are what make us who we are, and it's important to make sense of those events that seem of importance. As Willa Cather believes: "Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen."

It was a good time with the group; they thought, questioned & shared much. It will be interesting to see where their memories lead us. Here is a draft of my memoir:


The small wooden man stood at my grandfather’s right hand while he wrote his business notes each day. I was allowed to pick him up and stare into his face only now and then. My father was killed in World War II, so my mother and I had lived with her parents since I was two. Her parents had become as much parents as she was. Grandfather, whom I called Pop, stood in as my father. Pop was kind, told me stories every night, read to me, took me on nature walks, taught me about stars on summer evenings.

I wanted that little carved man. I coveted him as a young child, and could not understand why, if Pop really loved me, that he wouldn’t give me the carving.

Later, as I grew up, I discovered that the carving was all that was left of my grandfather’s father’s things. I began to understand why he stayed at Pop’s desk. I began to see outside myself to perceive others’ relationships and others’ needs.

It was no longer this me, me, me stuff. I actually saw that Pop really wanted that little man; he perhaps regarded the carving as the talisman of his life.

I remembered that most of Pop’s family belongings had been left behind in Virginia. So little had escaped to be carried to Missouri when the family moved. I appreciated this sad circumstance, but I still wanted that little man. As I grew even older, I became fearful that one of my cousins or my brother would take the carving on a whim when I wasn’t there.

I am embarrassed now when I return to that time in my life. I don’t understand what I thought would happen to me if I acquired the carving, or if I did not.

I have the carving now, and received it on the day my grandfather died. My life did change, but not because of the little man. He sits in a corner of a shelf in my living room; I dust him when I can, and blow a kiss to my grandfather who taught me patience is a virtue, and persistence is rewarded.

7 comments:

  1. You had me at the title of memoir.
    I've been reading and thinking about it alot as we've been discussing it in my Writer's Notebook Class. Good thoughts.

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  2. I love memoir. Reflecting and writing about family memories is like having the aHow key to unlock a treasure of understanding. It can become great therapy.

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  3. This is truly beautiful. I appreciate your writing. You pulled me in from the start and I had to read it all to see what happened. I'm so glad you had the opportunity to receive the "little man". With 6th graders I call the memoir a personal narrative because I can't quite get them to understand the deeper meaning but I'm sure fifteen year olds do! Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I love memoirs. Everyone has a story. It's amazing what we remember from our childhood and how it would be nice to change some things if possible for the better.

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  5. Based on Willa Cather's thought, I believe my children have aquired some great basic material! I really enjoyed following the progress of your connection with the little wooden man.

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  6. A great piece. It is playing in my mind. I loved the rich texture of this piece of writing. Thanks for sharing

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Having a conversation is a good thing!