A Writer's Ramblings…

January 19, 2010

A Story For Us All

Filed under: What's in my head today? — barbaratoombs @ 9:40 am
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I recently completed a writing job that was quite different for me, but one that really made me reflect on my own life.  I was approached to write the “life story” of a man who lives here in Arizona; he wanted to self-publish a few copies (leather-bound) to give to his family as a gift.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the man is of the Mormon faith–a faith well known to place significant value on family and family history.

He was raised on a ranch in Idaho, one of six kids in a devout Mormon family.  He went on a mission, married fairly young, had five kids of his own.  Like most of us, he had his challenges in life: got divorced, remarried, divorced again.  He learned a lot of lessons along the way–lessons he felt his children would benefit from, and perhaps even his grandchildren, if they were written down.

Over the course of six hour-long recorded interviews, this man revealed his life to me, piece by piece.  What affect his parents had on him, how he felt about his faith, what he learned after two failed relationships, the importance of family.  When all was said and done, I probably knew more about this man than most.

Was his story anything special?  Did it read like the script of a blockbuster movie?  Not really.  Was it a story that deserved to be told?  You bet.

At one point, in the midst of our interviews, he nearly bailed on the whole project, expressing concerns that perhaps none of his family would even be interested in his story.  I’ve got to admit that, at first, I was skeptical about the project myself–but, as we progressed, I came to realize how much I would have loved to be able to read a similar “history” of my mother (who died in 1998), or my grandparents.

When Robert voiced his doubts to me, I looked him straight in the eye and told him how much I would have treasured a book like this.  I also told him how, at one point in time, my aunt had very wisely recorded (on cassette tape–guess I’d better transcribe that!) some conversations with my grandfather about his childhood and what life was like growing up as a young Dutch boy in Michigan.  Even today, I cherish hearing his voice again and listening to the challenges and joys he had growing up in the early 20th century.

Whatever I said must have given Robert the boost of confidence he needed, because our sessions continued.  As his stories and thoughts came to life through my keyboard, a theme became clear.  Although it is easy for us to blame others for the way we are (“My dad was too strict” or “My mother was an alcoholic”), we all are responsible for charting our own path.  With knowledge, we can be more understanding about the way our parents were raised, for example, and the effect it may have had on them and how they treated us, for better or for worse.  We have a choice in life to continue that pattern–or to change it up a bit.  I guess it’s only when we get to be “mature adults” that we can look back, reflect, and understand–but it sure would help to learn, either through the written word or recorded history, what the roots of our family trees really look like.  Those roots, after all, are what shape us into the people we are today.

Robert’s book–“A Life Well Lived”–is full of family anecdotes, a few photos, and a life’s worth of lessons that could benefit us all.  The book is now at the printer, soon to be delivered into the hands of a man many would shrug off as “just ordinary.”  By taking the time to write down his story, he became extraordinary.  I can’t wait to hear how it was received by his family.


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