Writing Your Story for Family

L-R: Me, Aunt Shirley, Uncle Don, my cousin Donnie (I think my cousin David was snapping the photo); probably 1969 on one of our vacation trips.

A year ago, on December 7, 2010, my Aunt Shirley Ritchie passed away. On this first anniversary, it’s somehow appropriate that I’m typing up my Uncle Don’s reminiscences. He certainly mentions Shirley and her passing, but most of the document is autobiographical, recounting childhood memories and describing his mother, father, and stepfather, among others. He tells how he met Shirley and lovingly pays tribute to their two sons. This collection of memories and impressions is something he wants to pass along to his boys, their children, and Don’s great-grandchildren.

It’s a marvelous gift, and it’s a delight for me to get to read these accounts. I’ve known Uncle Don over 57 years, and some of these stories I’m hearing for the first time. There was so much I didn’t know—and it wasn’t as if I wasn’t close to my aunt and uncle and my cousins. We all saw each other regularly throughout my childhood, and in my teen years I even went on several vacation trips with them all. I always think of Uncle Don back then as being a man of few words, so it doesn’t surprise me I don’t remember him talking much about his life. I think most of the things I knew I heard from Aunt Shirley, even with my uncle sitting there at the kitchen table or at the wheel on one of our road trips. There’s something so touching and personal about someone’s story told in his own words. What a shame if I had been denied this pleasure; and what a treat for those grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

NUDGE: If you’ve never written anything about your life for your family to read, do so now, even if it’s only an anecdote and something everyone already knows about. The important thing is to put the experience in your words, from your perspective. If you’re pretty sure no one’s interested, don’t deceive yourself: Your recollections will be gold in coming years. Don’t worry about being all literary or fancy, don’t attempt a print-worthy telling. Simply be honest and tell your story in your own words. Authenticity in this kind of writing is much more valuable than literary flair. And be sure to share what you’ve written. Don’t archive it in some electronic folder or three-ring binder. Print it out and pass it around. E-mail it to friends and relatives. Seriously, everyone enjoys a story, especially a true one.

Note: My mother used to record journal-like descriptions of various family events when I was growing up. She’s finally sharing excerpts on her blog, complete with family photos. You can read them here and here; she also records a lot of memories and details of the past on the blog itself.

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