Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It's Not a Legacy if...

It's Not a Legacy if it doesn't tell a story.

After you've gotten "The Point" (see my previous post, and you know what you want to do to preserve your memories, we need to talk about the most important element of all: How to make it a legacy. Maybe it will be a traditional scrapbook, perhaps a digital album, or a printed and bound book. You might only want to organize your photos where they'll be safely preserved for a lifetime. It's possible you want to create a journal and include a few select pictures and some decorative elements.

Whatever your choice, without the stories, what will become of your creation? After you're gone, will anyone know anything about your life? Sure, there are stories we tell to our children and grandchildren, but will they always be remembered?

Do you consider some of your stories significant enough to pass on? At one time, I didn't think mine were. I've changed my mind. The choices I made, the triumphs, the failures, especially the insights I gained, all became important to pass down through the family. My parents, grandparents, my ancestors, they all have stories that I want to leave as my legacy.

I want my great grandchildren and their children to know that my grandmother went to work at age 15 in a "box factory," according to the census that year. Life hasn't always been what we know today, or will be in the future. I want them to know what kind of man my father was, all he endured to raise six children in a single-income home on $75 a week.

And how I got in trouble in Catholic high school for defying the Pope's ruling on who gets saved if the doctor must make a choice between the baby or the mother, when at the time my mother was having a hard pregnancy with my youngest brother, her sixth child. That story will tell them something about my beliefs, my rebelliousness.

How I felt at John F. Kennedy's assassination. And his brother, Bobby's. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s murder. What went through my mind on 9/11 when I saw the attack on our own soil.

You don't have to be a writer to record these events for posterity. One way is to write letters in your book to those you want to touch.

I was working at my desk today when someone down the hall yelled that the Trade Center had been hit by an airplane. I ran down to the TV and watched when they showed it again. Then another plane hit the other tower and they said terrorists were flying the planes. Where would they strike next? Were we at war now? I was so scared. All I could think was I wanted to be with my family.

If you notice in the above, the words are all simple, no fancy adjectives or hard grammar. It's just the truth of how you felt at a particular moment in time that someone will consider precious someday. Way more important than just a bunch of pictures and a few words about the event or a picture cut from a magazine or the newspaper, though I use those to add to historical events as well. It's how I felt inside, though, that tells the story along with the historic account.

Not all letter-type writing will be about historic events. Let's say you are creating an album for your son as a high school graduation gift. Instead of just adhering the photos and maybe even adding a word or two of description under them like, "Your First Day of Kindergarten," try this:

I'll never forget your first day of kindergarten. You were so excited to go that you got up all by yourself and ate all of your breakfast as fast as you could, grabbed your new backpack and waited at the door for me. When we got to your room, you looked inside and then turned around and grabbed my leg and said I changed my mind.

In this example, I didn't even put quotation marks around what your little boy might have said. That's okay. You might not know or remember all those nuances of grammar you learned in English class. But I guarantee you that your son will treasure this story the rest of his life because you wrote it. He will share it with his kids someday. It's important that you remembered his first day of kindergarten.

If you are writing memoir, you would probably write differently than letter-style, and it might look like this:

John's first day of kindergarten was cute. He got up all by himself and ate his breakfast in a hurry, got his backpack, and waited for me at the door. When we got to his room, he changed his mind when he saw the strange classroom and all the other kids. He held onto my leg and cried. And then I cried too.

There's a lot more about memoir writing, which is in my book. Looking at the above example, it would seem that you are writing your entire life story, and John's first day of kindergarten appears where it belongs in the chronology of your life. Some people scrapbook that way, chronologically. I'm one of those. But that's not necessarily so with memoir writing. In fact, usually memoirs are written about a specific period in one's life, also called a "slice of life."

It could be you're writing about a time in your life raising your kids, maybe even as a single mom. Or maybe your early life living on a farm and what it was like to go off to college and live in the city. Maybe you're even thinking of doing an album or book of all of your children's school years.

Just remember the importance of your stories here. Why not make this a true legacy. Some people leave a fortune in money, some a grand estate, maybe a huge collection of antique jewelry. If you don't have any of that, or even if you do, leave the one that will be treasured most.


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