Thursday, March 22, 2012

Did you ever swim in Lake Michigan?

Memoir class always gives me food for thought, and tonight was no exception. Sometimes pieces go in clusters, and tonight they were all childhood memories. One that clearly struck a note with me was written by a woman my age about her summers at a cottage on Lake Michigan. Everything rang familiar--the hot sand in summer, the icy cold waters of the lake, the suspense of the first trip to the beach to see what had washed away during the winter. All these years later, details crowd her memories, the kind of details that make an experience come alive. Oh yes, I may talk to her about avoiding passive voice and dangling modifiers, but it was a great piece. And those of us who grew up on Lake Michigan shared stories--the undertow, the polio scare and being pulled out of the water with blue lips, being taught to swim parallel to the shore.
Another piece was a woman's tribute to her father, chock full of the small moments she remembered with him--trips to the grocery store with the butcher counter in a corner and the butcher in a bloody apron, riding standing in the front of the car, the fear she had of her parents dying and then finding her dad lying on the living room floor with a nervous stomach one day, the family's belief in Pepto Bismol as a cure-all. She didn't need to tell us she adored her father and he, her--every incident shouted it out. And her opening ws funny--she was Andy Mac until she was born and turned out to be a girl. This one made me think of how different things were back then--no seat belts, no central air, no sophisticated cancer treatment in a small Texas town--when the diagnosis came it was too late.
A woman not much older that my kids told of the night she gave a farewell party for her best friend and people she didn't know came. She was horrified--and afraid--when she spotted a beer. Made me think of the parties my children gave--and some they gave when I was out of town and thought they were old enough to be trusted. They told me about them years later, and now I can laugh about it. Interestingly enough, this woman's mother is also in the class, and I am awed by the fact that they are so open with each other, though I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise. My kids are open with me, and for the most part I am with them--some things would only make them uncomfortable, and I don't share those. There's no reason.
But back to memories: everyone exclaimed over the detail in which these women remembered their childhoods, but someone suggested that once you begin to write, it all comes flooding back, and someone else said it's all there in your brain. It just has to come to the forefront.
We laugh a lot at these stories--like the little girls who thought they had eaten poison and would die any minute, so they invited their nemesis, the girl they hated to play with, to come over if she would taste their "lemonade." They figured if they were going to die, she might as well too. Of course all lived to tell the tale, and now the writer is appalled at their cruelty. We dismissed it saying children five and six don't understand the finality of death.
Another woman said she was bothered about presenting because her life hasn't been funny. I assured her it's all in the way you tell it, and that gave her an idea.
I learn so much each week from these women--and we share so much camaraderie. Have  you thought about your childhood? Tried writing about it? See what extra memories writing might bring up.

1 comment:

Sally Jackson said...

My son, too, had an annual party when we were out of town. He said the hardest part was restoring the dust on the furniture. It seems that two pieces of dryer lint, rubbed together, will do the trick. Who knew?