Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Memoir Writing

At a general meeting of the Cape Cod Genealogical Society on 11 Feb 2004, Dr. John B. Ahrens, historian, spoke to us about writing memoirs.

Dr. Ahrens said that to get started, one should write about episodes from your life. Writing one episode that you recall triggers memories of others. Just write them down, and do not worry about the sequence or telling a chronological story at first. Although he is an historian, not a genealogist, Ahrens thought that this would be one way to get started on a family history.

His ideas for subjects included:

• Important events in your life.
• Happy ones, sad ones, learning experiences, funny ones.
• Timelines of world events corresponding to your own
• People who affected your life.
• Use quotes where possible to make it come alive.
• Add photos, art works, poems, essays.
• And genealogical information, of course.

If you own a CD of the Society's Bulletin back issues, as you should, you will find a Summary of Dr. Ahrens's suggestions there.

Mark Twain once said, “I remember everything that ever happened to me, and some things that didn’t,” but here is a true example.

My Friend, Charlie Brown
In my former working life, I had a friend we’ll call Charlie. Charlie was an amiable little guy. He was shorter than average, married to a tall, stern woman, who towered over him. They made an interesting couple to look at when they attended company picnics, dances and other events. I do not know anything about their personal lives, but I do know that Mrs. Brown definitely would not fly. This gave Charlie an opportunity to spread his own wings, so to speak.

Charlie somehow learned about the island of Dominica, an island nation in the Caribbean Sea, and the northern-most of the Windward Islands. The size of the country is less than 290 square miles. The little nation went through various stages of French, British, and independent control. When Charlie went to the island in the 1960s or 70s, the only way to get there was by small airplane; there was no surface transportation available.


At the time, the island nation was ninety percent non-white: mostly black and natives such as Caribs. He made friends with these people easily in the local drinking establishment, which he frequented regularly when he was there--just as he did at home.

This was a great life, and he liked what he saw, so bought a small banana plantation. It came with a little cement block house and a plantation manager. The manager managed, and sold the crop. The proceeds paid his salary. Charlie lived in the little house and enjoyed his rain forest idyl for several weeks each year.

He was the last white man permitted to buy property on Dominica in that period of its history. (Today, Dominica is a very different place, a thriving and popular tourist attraction.)

When he returned from vacation, Charlie brought us souvenirs of cinnamon, nutmeg and other things typical of the Caribbean. No bananas, of course, but one of our co-workers annually asked him to bring some native rum. Charlie, whose intentions were generous and noble, always started home with a bottle of rum. But with the vicissitudes of air connections and airport waiting, the rum never completed the trip.

One morning after returning from vacation, Charlie came down to the kitchen to greet his wife, who was standing at the stove. Charlie, naked and feeling quite friendly, put his arms around her. She reacted to this by saying, “Good morning Charlie, say hello to Mother.”

Mother was sitting in the corner.

I don’t know where Charlie is today, but bless him, he was a lot of fun.

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