You might only have one chance to make the right not write impression.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

When I Finished a Family Memoir I Learned More From What They Didn't Say

"Ain't nothing like talking to an old fool," the voice inside my head chatted away. Disappointed that after hours of interviews and time spent jotting down short sentences with very little adjectives, there still was no substance, no real emotion, and no life lessons behind those who I had been taught since I was a baby to "say Aunt...say Uncle...good girl!" These folks weren't going to hand me any story about their lives on a silver platter. It was as if they were owners of mom and pop shops telling me, "I will offer you the cheapest item in my store while I keep the good stuff in the back closet for the good customers 'cause you can't afford what I got." Oh please, I was going to get the family history even if it meant digging up some info. about the relatives of our family's slave master and letting them talk.

They were my elders who had nothing worthwhile to say unless you probed and probed a little more while sharing a little gossip about yourself or someone else in the hopes that like a mouse they would nibble at the cheese before slamming a trap on them! Finally, you got what you wanted out of the oldest members of your family, pieces of history-- all you wanted was a story to complete the you lost in between the shape of your nose and the color of your skin. You just wanted these secretive old folks to just answer a few questions as to why you were born into the family that you were born. "Now was that hard?" I felt like saying.

I guess it is for some introvert, uneducated, and "content" types in the family. They rather focus on the meaningless tidbits of life like the argument they may have had with a sibling about a game, a drink they drank, something they wore or how you are going to make them look since you are writing about them.

At times I was simply angered with what I was getting from some of my people and tired of using up my energy on trying to get something worthwhile from these folks I call, "family." I had to remind them that they weren't living forever and there was a generation that was growing up real fast after me asking questions about them. "Please share a story about..." I would ask an aunt or uncle. "Could you tell me more about..." Sometimes I was given the run-around, the attitude, and the "call me back" tactics when one feels like the interviewer is getting too close for comfort.

I realized as I interviewed one family member after the other that the true story wasn't the one that these folks was telling, it was the one that I had observed growing up. I had to reflect on the past to feel at peace with the present in order to move on toward the future. So I took the time to interview myself and that is when my passion (that had been fluctuating for weeks about the book) had began to steady and I became more determined than ever to just finish the book. So I did and my memoir/family book finally was removed out of mind and put in print for private viewing of course. (Not a good idea to share everything with the world, you know!)

I had learned through my own observations as a child "Growing Up McGuire" that the things my elders were and weren't saying was the basic building blocks of a good family history book.

In closing, I suggest that you too discover more about those people you call "family" and work to do what's right for future generations. Too often we repeat generational curses, bad traditions, negative actions and the like because we are too lazy, stubborn, and/or brainwashed to do something different.

Nicholl McGuire