Tag Archives: memoirs

Writing Challenge: One-Sentence Memoirs for the New Year

The One-sentence Memoir Challenge


This challenge is open until February 1.

I challenge you to write as many one-sentence memoirs as you can in 15 minutes, and then share them with us in the comments below.

Here are mine:

My 4-year-older sister says that she can’t remember ever thinking of me as a baby but always thought of me as an equal.

It was a year after my husband’s death that I found the pictures he had taken of me looking at his sculptures at that art show I had gone to before we ever met.

When he said that he only drank on vacation, I didn’t realize that he meant he ONLY drank on vacation.

My youngest stepson called me his wicker stepmother, which might or might not have been due to my basket collection.

“There’s a big black scorpion on the wall beside the toilet in my bathroom and it’s wagging it’s tail at me!”

My parents’ bedroom contained many secrets, including my father’s gallstones in a small pink cardboard box and a mysterious cap-shaped rubber object in a white plastic case that smelled of talcum and sometimes changed positions in my mother’s bottom drawer, otherwise used for mainly incidental or forgotten items.

I was 13 on that summer that I decided my father was planning on murdering us all. 

When I asked it to prove that it was really a flying saucer, it suddenly lifted into the air and zigzagged from barrow pit to barrow pit in the road behind me.

My sister told her children not to believe anything I ever told them.

My mother is a bottom drawer. In her I keep my past down low, disorganized, how I can stand it.

One by one, they climbed over the wall and ascended the steps up to the upper story of my house, swarming up over its high dome, where they danced.

When I asked her if she’d like to hear the real story of my 15 months in Africa, my mother said, “I never told my mother anything that would make her feel bad!’

 

I look forward to your sharing your one-sentence memoirs!!! (If you want to cheat and take longer, go ahead. Just try to be spontaneous and not to mull too long over each one. Let the thoughts come freely.) This was an exercise that Judy Reeves had us do in our Wild Woman Retreat. Please link your answers to this site: https://judydykstrabrown.com/2020/01/01/one-sentence-memoirs-for-the-new-year/

What Vestige Left?

                                                              What Vestige Left?

I think what any of my ancestors would find most surprising if they were to come back is that there is so little of them left.  My paternal grandma would look for her quilts, her embroidery and her China cabinet full of glass and porcelain and would find none of them in my house.  I spent too many years traveling, so my older sister Betty Jo and my cousin Betty Jane wound up with all of grandma’s things. The one good quilt is over Betty Jo’s bed in the managed care facility where she now lives, but she knows nothing of it or of us or of her own children, being the prisoner of Alzheimer’s that she is.

My cousin Betty Jane passed on years ago, so the China cabinet full of Grandma’s dishes is in Idaho in the house of  her second husband. What Grandma would find of herself in my house is:
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one blue bowl filled with jade plant cuttings by my kitchen sink,

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an old pottery canning jar above my kitchen cabinets––

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and remnants of her tatting, a small square cut from a pillowslip she embroidered and part of a quilt square that I used in a retablo entitled “Our Lady of Notions.” (The view above is looking down on the top of the retablo–details not shown because of the shooting angle in the view of the entire retablo below.)

judy 2Amazing that so little remains of her in my house when she had a house stuffed full of things.  Now that I am the one with the house stuffed full, I wonder what of me will remain after fifty years.  Perhaps just this blog or my books or my artwork.  Maybe that is why I am so compulsive about writing and doing art–that need to be remembered.

The Prompt: Modern Families––If one of your late ancestors were to come back from the dead and join you for dinner, what things about your family would this person find the most shocking?
https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/modern-families/

Most of the Time: A Serial Tale, Chapter 6

Most of the Time

Chapter 6
(A Ghost Story)

“Where shall we begin?” The fussy little man moved his little mustache back and forth like a typewriter carriage gone slightly out of control. We were off to solve a mystery, Hercule and I, and although I followed along without a clue as to where we were going or what the mystery was, I had faith that this friend I had followed through so many adventures would once again take me to a worthwhile  place.   I had caught up to him by quickening my step, but my legs were so much longer than his that doing so caused me to sprint out ahead a bit until I shortened my stride to match his.  The combined effect of walking faster but taking shorter steps gave me a prancing quality that I’m sure was humorous, but since no one was viewing this daydream but me, I had no sense of embarrassment.

It is only in retrospect that I gain a viewer, but since that viewer is me, I am perhaps harder on my protagonist than an impartial viewer might be.  What does one do when she is the narrator of her own life?  It is an exercise in schizophrenia.  You are you.  You are she.  You are you.  You are she.  When I see through the eyes of that woman, feeling the onset of middle age years before the appropriate time to do so, I understand the need for flight and escape.  What she needed to do was to leave her outgrown marriage, but how many women do?  Instead, they seek to alter a dress that no longer fits–to plump sofa cushions that have grown too matted to plump years ago.

They live in fantasy worlds of ladies luncheons or afternoon movies or midnight novels.  They simply neglect to fix the thing that needs fixing or to leave it behind for a new set of life problems. For it seems to me from the vantage point of my sixties that that is what life is–a series of puzzles that we can either confront and try to solve or merely overlook and seek distraction from.  Fold up the paper and use the puzzle to swat flies or form it into an origami bird  or party hat.  Use it to wrap up garbage and count on someone else to carry the problem away for you.  All the different solutions we invent in response to our problems is the point of life.  We are all our own choreographers, doing our version of the dance. So I try to be more patient with Susan than I want to be, calling forth more sympathetic narrators.  Susan at 40.  Susan at 35.  What would Susan at 20 have to say about me, I wonder?  Stretching my mind to this task sends me off in a different direction, to tell a different story.

A woman lies in bed in her short purple cotton spaghetti-strapped nightgown.  She shows upper arms too heavy for showing outside of her own room.  She lies typing, which is true in more ways than one.  For when she writes in the very early morning, as she has said countless times before, she writes from a different part of her brain than that which guides her actions during the day.  She writes more about the present, with spare bits of the past popping up as well, as they do in dreams.

That whole part about Peter is imaginary, but where did Peter come from? Is he a manifestation of something she really was trying to escape at the time–some dream lover she might have in fact married in her twenties if she had not in reality been off pursuing the life she described as a metaphor in her initial chapters?  This whole hierarchy of selves is getting so complicated that even I as the real person narrating this story cannot keep track.  How did Doris Lessing keep all those separate selves straight in The Golden Notebook?  By compartmentalizing. Other writers do it by splitting themselves into separate characters, but I’ve never been successful at that.  I write best as myself and somehow can’t make the jump into dividing myself into the parts of myself.

When I split here, it is my whole self being presented at  20, at 35, at 45 and at 67. It is so complicated that the plots become intertwined, but since this is what they want to do, I’m going to go along with them.  Like Alice down the rabbit’s burrow, I will swallow bitter pills and grow and shrink–but in my case it will be in age as well as size.  Let’s see where this acid trip of imagination takes me. No doubt some readers will drop away, but at this point I think this has become an exercise more for myself than for any viewers who are free to jump on and off this slow moving platform at will.

“We have arrived at our destination,” my twitching little companion tells me, his prissy voice cutting through my reverie.

“And what is our destination?” I ask him. “I’ve never known where we are going.  I’ve just been so busy trying to get in step that I never asked.”

“You don’t recognize this place?” he asks, as he swings open a wide door before us.

I step into the view on the other side.  It is a large golden yellow house with rose pink domes.  Two dogs rush up to greet us–obnoxious dogs that jump up and bark and then rush out the open door behind us into the street.  They vanish in seconds up the big hill that we, too, might have climbed if we had not taken this detour. The courtyard of the house is full of flowering trees and bushes and succulents and palm trees towering or contained within  pots.  As we walk, the door to the house opens.  Inside is a table and a computer, but we keep walking to another door, open it to see a woman in a purple nightgown lying on her back in bed. Typing on a laptop. Lying in two different ways.  I take off my coat and shoes.  Lie down next to her.  Roll over into her, and we are one.  And that is why, dear reader, when you ask me the question everyone inevitably asks, I admit that yes, “I believe in ghosts.”

The opening and closing lines today are from  “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline. Thanks, Patti Arnieri, for furnishing me with your second prompt.

You may find Chapters 1-5 of this tale in postings made over that past 5 days.

 

 

South Dakota Gumbo

South Dakota Gumbo

When the rains came in hot summer,  wheat farmers cursed their harvest luck, for grain sodden by rain just days before cutting was not a good thing; but we children, freed from the worry of our own maintenance (not to mention taxes, next year’s seed fees and the long caravans of combines already making their slow crawl from Kansas in our direction) ran into the streets to glory in it.

We were children of the dry prairie who swam in rivers once or twice a year at church picnics or school picnics and otherwise would swing in playground swings, wedging our heels in the dry dust to push us higher. Snow was the form of precipitation we were most accustomed to–waddling as we tried to execute the Xs and Os of Fox and Geese bundled into two pairs of socks and rubber boots snapped tighter at the top around our thick padded snowsuits, our identities almost obscured under hoods and scarves tied bandit-like over our lower faces.

But in hot July, we streamed unfettered out into the rain.  Bare-footed, bare-legged, we raised naked arms up to greet  rivers pouring down like a waterfall from the sky.  Rain soaked into the gravel of the small prairie town streets, down to the rich black gumbo that filtered out to be washed down the gutters and through the culverts under roads, rushing with such force that it rose back into the air in a liquid rainbow with pressure enough to wash the black from beneath our toes.

We lay under this rainbow as it arced over us, stood at its end like pots of gold ourselves, made more valuable by this precipitation that precipitated in us schemes of trumpet vine boats with soda straw and leaf sails, races and boat near-fatalities as they wedged in too-low culvert underpasses.  Boats “disappeared” for minutes finally gushed out sideways on the other side of the road to rejoin the race down to its finale at that point beyond which we could not follow: Highway 16–that major two-lane route east to west and the southernmost boundary of our free-roaming playground of the entire town.

Forbidden to venture onto this one danger in our otherwise carefree lives, we imagined our boats plummeting out on the other side, arcing high in the plume of water as it dropped to the lower field below the highway.  It must have been a graveyard of vine pod boats, stripped of sails or lying sideways, pinned by them.  We imagined mind soldiers crawling out of them and ascending from the barrow pits along the road to venture back to us through the dangers of the wheels of trucks and cars.  Hiding out in mid-track and on the yellow lines, running with great bursts of speed before the next car came, our imaginary heroes made their ways back to our minds where tomorrow they would play cowboys or supermen or bandits or thieves.

But we were also our own heroes.  Thick black South Dakota gumbo squished between our toes as we waded down ditches in water mid-calf.  Kicking and wiggling, splashing, we craved more immersion in this all-too-rare miracle of summer rain.  We sat down, working our way down ditch rivers on our bottoms, our progress unimpeded by rocks.  We lived on the stoneless western side of the Missouri River, sixty miles away. The glacier somehow having been contained to the eastern side of the river, the western side of the state was relatively free of stones–which made for excellent farm land, easy on the plow.

Gravel, however, was a dear commodity.  Fortunes had been made when veins of it were found–a crop more valuable than wheat or corn or oats or alfalfa. The college educations of
my sisters and me we were probably paid for by the discovery of a vast supply of it on my father’s land and the fact that its discovery coincided with the decision to build first Highway 16 and then Interstate 90.  Trucks of that gravel were hauled  to build first the old road and then  the new Interstate that, built further south of town, would remove some of the dangers of Highway 16, which would be transformed into just a local road–the only paved one in town except for the much older former highway that had cut through the town three blocks to the north.

So it was that future generations of children, perhaps, could follow their dreams to their end.  Find their shattered boats.  Carry their shipwrecked heroes back home with them.  Which perhaps led to less hardy heroes with fewer tests or children who divided themselves from rain, sitting on couches watching television as the rain merely rivered their windows and puddled under the cracks of front doors, trying to get to them and failing.

But in those years before television and interstates and all the things that would have kept us from rain and adventures fueled only by our our imaginations, oh, the richness of gumbo between our toes and the fast rushing wet adventure of rain!

Writer’s note:  I know my sister Patti is going to read this and cry, and so I want to present you with this mental picture of her, college age, Levi cuffs rolled up above her knees, surrounded by five-year-old neighbor kids, enjoying her last big adventure out into the ditches of Murdo, South Dakota, during a July rain.

But wait!  A mere two hours of digging and another hour of editing has produced this proof of my former statement, so to augment your mental image, here is the real one:

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Not quite the gusher depicted in the childhood vignette, but nonetheless, Patti’s final puddle adventure. She had taken my visiting niece out. The next day the neighborhood kids rang our doorbell and asked my mom if Patti could come back outside to play! Ha.

The Prompt: Free Association–Write down the first words that come to mind when we say . . . home. . . soil . . . rain. Use those words in the title of your post.