Lost Chance, Final Chances


Lucille and Donald Aubrey

For years, I asked my parents to write or record their memoirs of life in the U.S. Army. Dad retired from the Army as a Lt. Col., and he and Mom lived around the world during his Army career. After retiring from the Army, Dad and Mom continued to travel, one time making a trip around the world, in addition to numerous trips abroad across the globe.

As a child, I used to love listening to my parents tell stories of their lives abroad, and as I got older, I asked them to record their memories, either on tape or on computer. But for whatever reason, they never did. Fortunately, Dad did go to the Reagan Library several times to record part of his story for a history archive project for the Military Order of World Wars (MOWW), so I have that for my archives. But Dad passed away in July 2015, before I had a chance to sit and interview him about his life. That would have been a challenge, and I’m certain he would have made me work for the stories, but that was just Dad’s way. He was humble, not a man to brag or toot his own horn, so I think he would have thought my interest was slightly ridiculous. Still, had I been persistent enough, I know he would finally have given in to me. Not for his sake or for mine, but as part of the family legacy.

So, I am delighted that I will be going home to live with my mom next month. In the past few years, I have talked with her daily when on the same continent, and several times weekly when ten hours ahead on a different continent, and I have managed to record some of our talks, especially when I have managed to get her to talk about herself and her life. Mom, like Dad, is quite self-effacing and can’t seem to imagine that anyone would want to hear her story. But she and Dad had five kids and numerous grandchildren and now great-grandchildren who will want to know their history, the stories of their fore-bearers. That’s you, Mom and Dad.

I have a list of questions to ask Mom about her life, as a child, as a teen during World War II, and as an Army wife. I have already written one blog about my mom, in “Lucille, the Intrepid: Or, The Life of an Army Wife.” But now, I will begin in earnest to record more stories, to fill in the blanks of what I know already and what is missing.

I know she still has stories that I’ve never heard. She dropped a gem the other day, about how as a 26-year-old First Lieutenant’s wife living in France, she was tasked with organizing an outing for the officer’s wives (mostly older, certainly of higher rank) from Orleans, France, to Paris. She and a friend went to Paris to scout out appropriate places, and ultimately Mom took the ladies to a fashion show in the ritzy Yves St. Laurent! Yep, that was a new one for me! So nonchalant in her delivery!

Mom just turned 95, and is still sharp as a nail, but time is passing. Now is the moment to record as much of her story and Dad’s story as I can, for myself, for my brothers, for my kids, and for all those who love Mom and Dad.

After all, that is one of the greatest legacies we can leave behind: our story.

If anyone who is reading this has been tempted to write their memoirs, I encourage you to do so. Start now. Get something on paper. Write vignettes, little stories of your life. One day, you’ll look up and realize that you can now string together all of those vignettes into the story of your life.

I’m here if you need help: snart29@me.com.

Inventing the Truth As You Recall


“With a little help from our imaginations, desires, and experiences,” wrote Willett Stanek in Writing Your Life, “we have the power and the privilege to invent the truth.”

“We construct our pasts in tune with our heart’s desires to become the heroes of our own myths,” she continues.

Memoir writing is not simply retelling the facts, but of constructing story from our lives. Writers weave myths out of memories. Our recollection of an event is certain to be different from someone else’s recollection of the same event: both have viewed it, and then recalled it, from our unique perspective. How often have you recounted an event in the presence of someone else who was there, only to be corrected in the details, details that are vivid in your mind? Are you wrong or is the other person wrong? Or are you both equally correct? You are correct in your perceptions, if not in factual memory. And that is the essence of memoir writing. You write YOUR memory of events, and don’t worry about other peoples’ memories.

Your memoir doesn’t have to encompass your entire life. It can be narrowed and focused, highlighting moments of change, insight, or reflection. You decide what to incorporate into memoir, and write from your point of view alone. Don’t worry about what others might think. You are writing your story, not theirs.

“Although a memoir and an autobiography are kissing cousins,” wrote Stanek, “the similarities can be slight. Most autobiographies tent to spread all over your life, like a runny batter, while a memoir can be neat, tidy, and much easier to handle and contain.

“Imagine your life rolled out in one huge piece of dough, but what interests you at the moment is your ghastly thirteenth summer. Cut out that one piece and roll the rest up for another day. Working with a small piece of your past makes it easier to keep focused.”

Don’t worry if you don’t recall every significant or insignificant fact. Write what you remember, and delve into the impact of that memory on your life. Invent what you must, but tell the truth within.