It’s sad when – too late – we regretfully say: “I wish I had asked my mother about that.” Or my father. Or my grandmother.
Most parents know our children are not as fascinated by our fascinating lives as we are. Only when they have children of their own—and feel the first twinges of their own advancing age—do they suddenly want to know more about their family heritage and all its stories, legends, myths and anecdotes: ‘What exactly were those stories my mom used to tell about . . . (her ancestors? farming? their old cars? camping? traveling? the war? books she’d read?)?’ ‘Where exactly was it that she grew up? Sure, Harrismith district, but which farm, where?’
Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into. That record can take many shapes. It can be a formal memoir. Or it can be an informal family history, written to tell your children and your grandchildren about the family they were born into. It can be the oral history that you extract by tape recorder or mp3 from a parent or a grandparent too old, too sick or not inclined to do any writing. Or it can be anything else you want it to be: some hybrid mixture of history and reminiscence.
Whatever it is, it’s an important kind of writing.
Too often memories die with their owner, and too often time surprises us by running out. Pffft! like that.
Start like this:
1955 – born
1960 – memories of the ‘farmhouse’
1961 – Moved to town
1961- Sub A Teacher Mrs van Reenen
1972 – Matric
Then go back to it regularly, or every time you think of something, and add little bits – just dates and notes. It’ll grow from there. And your grandkids WILL be fascinated. Your great-grandkids more so.
Best place to do it nowadays is on a blog just like this one.
Paraphrased from William Zinsser – “How to Write a Memoir”