Living the stories (and a winner!)

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“I can’t see the forest for the trees.”  I suppose in this case you’d say you can barely see the lake for all the trees. Until last summer, when the men had to cut down a few of them, the view from our summer cabin was only the portion you see to the right of this photo.

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{Click photo to enlarge)

It’s nice to be able to glimpse a little more of our lake now. We could remove more trees, of course (and the leaning birch may soon remove itself, although it’s been like that for at least a decade), but we aren’t anxious to leave the cabin too exposed.

BlowdownAtCabinOne year when my parents were still alive, they reported that a small tornado had gone through, uprooting many trees in its path. My mom took this photo from across the creek, showing one leaning on our [then] new cabin. Through the years other trees have fallen on and/or near it, but it has managed to remain unscathed. On each visit, as we climb the hill from our hand-hewn bridge, I hold my breath a bit, wondering what we’ll find — wondering what changes the wilderness has brought to it during our absence, if there will be any damage, or if the cabin is even still standing. Touch wood (and there’s a lot of it we could touch), it has survived the passing seasons.

Our cabin is primitive, but it’s a beloved family getaway. I tell people it’s like camping, but with a roof. The building’s gone through several transitions over the years, but it’s still small and rustic, without any city conveniences, and we still need a 4 x 4 to get there.

So, what’s the appeal? Yes, we think the view is pretty spectacular, but there are lots of wilderness lakes in British Columbia. This particular one, however, is the focal point for four generations of family memories (and a fifth generation is poised to begin making more). There’s something about ‘frontiering’ experiences — hauling water by the bucket from the creek, spending evenings playing card games in the weak glow of kerosene and propane lamps, trekking to the outhouse, and cutting the daily requirement of firewood — that adds a meaningful chapter to our family’s story.

I thought of this yesterday, when DD Shari Green shared her reaction to the death of Johnathan Crombie of Anne of Green Gables fame. In her post, “Gilbert Blythe and the power of stories“, she said,

“Judging by my social media feeds … Gilbert Blythe–and by extension, Jonathan Crombie–is absolutely adored by a great many people. And this has me thinking… How is it that fictional characters can come to be so significant in our lives? Why are their fictional sorrows and joys felt in our own hearts? How do their fictional dramas become entwined with our own real-life ones, causing girls to long for red hair and an expansive vocabulary and a boy just like Gil?”

Stories such as Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908) and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (1935), have caused us to fall in love with characters who have endured through generations of readers. The account of their lives fills us with nostalgia. The power of stories is quite remarkable, but it’s most effective when it draws on emotions and relatable memories.

I’ve never given it much thought, but that rough little cabin is the setting for a portion of our family’s life story. Some of it is on paper, but most is held in our collective memory. Whether written down or not, each passing year and every new generation adds another chapter.

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Do you have places or events that play a significant role in your family’s story?

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As promised in Friday’s post, to help celebrate my 1,000th post, I’m giving away a $20 gift certificate for either Amazon or Starbuck’s. The name drawn at midnight was … ta-da …

**  JENN HUBBARD  **

Congratulations, Jenn, and thanks for helping me celebrate. I’ll be in touch by e-mail to find out which certificate you’d prefer.

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Writing a Memoir: or, down the line, who will care how I live my life?

Our daughters’ weddings were beautiful occasions, and traditional in many aspects but unconventional in their relative simplicity.  The girls dubbed them ‘casually elegant’. There were the usual lovely long white gowns, bridal bouquets, and receptions, but not a lot of fuss or elaborate preparations. (Our son’s wedding was more formal but we didn’t have a lot to do with its planning.)

As I compose this post it is well after 2:30 a.m. The house has become quiet. We’re housing the spillover of family that is gathering for a granddaughter’s wedding. Two of the three families who will be staying with us through the weekend are here and have settled in for the night; the third will arrive later today. In addition to sharing in the marriage of two special people, there is the precious time of being together with all the family and friends (170 of them!) who will gather to celebrate the milestone. Being together brings present joy and provides memories to treasure.

X TeacupsOne afternoon last week we were rummaging through boxes of items from the basement, unwrapping pieces of vintage china and crystal to use at the reception. Each piece brought memories of long-ago times when they had adorned the tables of other generations now gone. Stories were shared as each fragile piece was carefully washed and dried. I commented that our memory is a wonderful thing… a God-given blessing… but something that often we take for granted.

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We don’t expect to forget the important events that make up our lifetimes, but our minds age along with our bodies and there is no guarantee that in later years we’ll always be able to remember details that we’d like to pass along to younger family members.

Like the Royal Crown Derby tea set that belonged to an aunt who died over forty years ago, and had come to us with the admonition that she would like it to remain in the family to be passed down through future generations of the Garvins.

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Or like the silver bowl with its latticed insert that used to hold nodding blooms of roses from my husband’s parents’ garden … from the very rose bed that a gathering of church young people danced around at a party one summer evening, beating a circular pathway into the grass of the manse’s backyard.

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We write memoirs for various reasons. Sometimes we want to share remembered antics and anecdotes publicly because we’re storytellers. Sometimes we simply want them recorded as personal recollections, a heritage for our families. We might not think anyone in future generations will care about what seem like insignificant happenings in our lives, or about the eccentricities of dearly departed relatives.(Where DOES that term come from??? Why are they ‘dear’ when they depart???) But my own experience has been one of regret that I didn’t sit down with my parents and grandparents to record some of the stories I’d vaguely overheard in fragments of conversations but later couldn’t recall. Those stories went to the grave with them and are now lost forever. I don’t want my life’s memories to suffer the same fate. Maybe nobody down the Garvin line will care, but if they don’t, they won’t be compelled to read my words. If they DO care, they will be extremely grateful that I took the time to record them for their benefit.

Such stories are part of who we are, and therefore part of the heritage that belongs to future generations. They nourish the roots which will enrich their lives.

Have you written any kind of memoir, autobiography or journal? If so, is it published? What are your intentions for it?

X Pitcher

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“For whatever was written in former days
was written for our instruction,
that through endurance and
through the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.”

[Romans 15:4]

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A Unique Form of Memoir

 

It began with a book received from her son last Christmas… “Blank, recycled paper that is truly beautiful, with a wonderful leather cover and a tie to close it up. I intend to turn it into a treasure, with sketches and words of wisdom.”

Those were the words of my Aunt, recorded on her Nonie Vogue’ Flickr webpage on January 1, 2010, along with a photo of the first page of the book that has become one of three such treasures. Every page is filled with carefully selected quotations, illustrated with her own sketches and watercolours. Once she filled its pages she went in search of a second book. Within two months she had filled it and moved on to a third. From January to October she posted 227 photos from three full books (not just 227 pages, because some photos display two pages at a time). That in itself is a remarkable achievement. These books are indeed treasures.

But she isn’t done yet. Having run short of quotations to showcase, and in between knitting dozens of toques and mittens for the homeless, and tiny baby toques for the hospital’s nursery, she has started a fourth treasure book, this time sharing glimpses of her family history. The unexpected interruption of a three-week hospital stay delayed but hasn’t deterred her progress. She is producing a beautiful and uniquely personal memoir with handwritten anecdotes accompanied by her original art, photographing the pages as she goes, and posting them to share with friends and family on Flickr.

 

Page about Family Home in Vogler's Cove*

She would probably tell you she isn’t “a real writer”, but memoir is a recognized genre and in my books she is both artist and author. Her determination and commitment to the task set an example for me, and for all writers who all too often procrastinate about recording family information that could be a legacy for future generations.

Oh, and did I mention that she’s well past her 87th birthday? She knows that it’s never too late to start. So what are you waiting for? It can be as detailed as collecting family names, dates and occupations in a notebook, or as simple as recording random memories. Or it could be a beautiful “treasure book”, although I think you’d have to go some to match this one.

Are you interested in genealogy? Have you written a memoir? As my Aunt might say, “If not, why not?”

 

2008 Birthday Photo*

* All photos “borrowed” from Norma McGuire’s Flickr pages