Memoir Monday: Later-in-Life Changes and How to Capture a Story

My mom will have a milestone birthday this coming weekend, and I’ve put together a scrapbook of what’s happened in her life over the past year.  Two years ago she made the decision to move to the town where my husband and I now live, after living in a previous residence for 35 years.  I have to hand it to her for her flexibility and adaptability to start a new life in a new place, leaving all that had defined her in another town up to this point.  I’m proud of the way she’s become involved with her new surroundings and grateful that she decided to be closer to us.

When we helped her pack up her belongings for the move north, I found bits of my life that had been stored at her place over the years: scrapbooks, photos, letters, postcards, school notebooks and memorabilia from England where I attended University of London for a college semester.  (Yes, I am loving revisiting that city through the Olympic coverage!)  I’ve since sifted through many of those boxes.  I’ve kept some of what I found, tossed some, set aside others that need special preserving, and discovered a ton of content for my personal history and family story.  My mom’s stories will add to what I’ve started, and help fill in the empty spaces through the interviews I’m doing with her.

If you’re planning to interview a parent or grandparent whose story you want to capture, here are a few things to keep in mind:  1) That person has to be ready to tell the story, or parts of it.  That means scheduling a time in advance, as scheduling and routine are very important in older years.  Surprises are not so popular.  2) Know that not everything will be pleasant and that some memories might evoke emotions.  Let that person share what is comfortable.  If you need to redirect, redirect the story in a positive light.  3) Show your genuine interest and refrain from a bombardment of questions such as:  what was it like, what color was it, what did that mean?  That person might not be prepared to answer those specific questions and the session will end up frustrating for all.  It’s better to say something like, “Tell me what you remember,” and you’ll often find hidden gems in that material they choose to share.

Have you captured some stories of your parents or grandparents?  What are your favorites?


Prescott Memoir Project:  If  you’re a resident of Prescott, AZ, be sure to submit your 500 word essay to be included in a collection of stories.  Submit before December 31 — email me for details.

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