My grandfather would often conclude a long talk with me by saying, “There’s a book in all of us…ay, Schatzi?” Schatzi is what my grandfather called me. It means sweetie, in Swiss.
Even as a child, I understood what my grandfather meant. Always a lover of books, I also enjoyed writing and knew one day I would write a book.
Well, it took me many more years than I had anticipated to complete my first book, but I did it. What was the subject of my book? It was my 13-year-old mother’s move to America from Switzerland with her family. The book I finally wrote is fiction, but heavily based on my mom’s experience.
We all do have a book in us, but maybe writing a whole book is too daunting. Consider starting with a story. Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House on the Prairie books began with the idea that she wanted to save the stories her father told her.
The following passage is from a speech Laura gave to the Sorosis Club, Mountain Grove, Missouri, Winter 1935-36.
“When I began writing children’s stories I had in mind only one book. For years I had thought that the stories my father once told me should be passed on to other children. I felt they were much too good to be lost.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder was correct. The stories were much too good to be lost. Children across the country asked for more of her stories. “Please tell another!” Laura heard again and again.
So Laura let her mind search for more stories from her youth. She said this about that process in her speech…
“I have learned in this work that when I went as far back in my memory as I could and left my mind there awhile it would go farther back and still farther, bringing out the dimness of the past things that were beyond my ordinary remembrance.
I have learned that if the mind is allowed to dwell on a circumstance more and more details will present themselves and the memory becomes more and more distinct.”
She then added…
“Also to my surprise, I have discovered that I have lived a very interesting life. Perhaps none of us realize how interesting life is until we begin to look at it from that point of view. Try it! I am sure you will be delighted.”
Take those words of encouragement from Laura and discover the stories from your life that are much too good to be lost. If that’s not enough to get you started, maybe the way Ray Bradbury used to pull memories from the past for his book “Dandelion Wine”, which is based on a compilation of memories of his boyhood summer of 1928, will help.
He wrote this in the intro to his book…
“from the age of twenty-four to thirty-six hardly a day passed when I didn’t stroll myself across a recollection of my grandparents’ northern Illinois grass, hoping to come across some old half-burnt firecracker, a rusted toy, or a fragment of letter written to myself in some young year hoping to contact the older person I became to remind him of the past, his life, his people, his joys, and his drenching sorrows.
It became a game that I took to with great gusto: to see how much I could remember about dandelions themselves, or picking wild grapes with my father and brother, rediscovering the mosquito-breeding ground rain barrel by the side bay window, or searching out the smell of gold-fuzzed bees that hung around our back porch grape arbor. Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
I love the words Bradbury uses just to describe the method he used to capture segments of his youth! He goes on to say…
“So, I turned myself into a boy running to bring a dipper of clear rainwater out of that barrel by the side of the house. And, of course, the more water you dip out the more flows in.”
Use these techniques described by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Ray Bradbury to find your memories. You can encourage family members and friends to try it too. When I wrote my book “Coming to America: A Girl Struggles to Find her Way in a New World” which was based on my mother’s experience moving across an ocean from Switzerland when she was thirteen years old, I prodded her with questions to take her mind back—back to a place where she could see, smell, feel, hear and taste what surrounded her. The plan was that then I would capture those sensations with words…or at least attempt to.
Nancy H. Vest’s book, “The Growing Up Years: Easy Family History Journal” is filled with prompts to coax precious memories out of hiding. One prompt from Nancy’s book that I definitely plan on letting my mind dwell in the past for a good long while is…
“My neighborhood friends and I were outdoors all summer long. We rode bikes, played hide and seek, jumped rope, had foot races, napped in the shade, made up games, and more. What did you and your friends do in the summer?”
As soon as I read that prompt, my mind led me to the feel of my bicycle riding over two bumps near the corner of my block, that would send my bike a few inches off the ground. It was magic. I also see twinkling yellow lights floating around me, as the sky gets greyer and I know it will soon fade to black. Maybe Mom has a jar that I can catch some of those lightning bugs in? I will ask her, and I will also ask for special permission to stay out past the time the street lights go on… At least half an hour…I’ll have to put my watch on so I won’t be late. If I am late, I won’t be allowed to stay out later the next time…Maybe there will be a game of flashlight tag tonight?
Wow, it works. Laura and Ray were right. If you let your mind stay a while in the past, you can keep dipping into that rain barrel of memories. There definitely are many moments and stories much too good to be lost!
Diana Erbio is a freelance writer and author of “Coming to America: A Girl Struggles to Find her Way in a New World”. Visit her on Facebook and read her blog series “Statues: The People They Salute” .