I have been reading Bob Welch’s book Pebble in the Water. It’s about his search for information regarding Frances Slanger, the first nurse killed in action in WWII, and the book he wrote about her entitled American Nightingale. He’s a good storyteller. Welch makes the places and times he writes about come alive — become memorable.
As I read I Welch’s book I am beginning to think about the memoir I am composing and how the story of my paternal grandfather seems to be dominating my thoughts and my writing. He died much too young – too young for him and too young for me. I was only ten years old at the time. He came from Holland at the age of 19, just before WWI started. Grandpa Bert’s life in America took him from Southern California, where he chauffeured rich folks around to horse races and the like, to South Dakota where he became a vegetable farmer, and finally to Dexter, Oregon where he did the same.
Now, as a not yet elderly woman, I can think of all sorts of questions I would like to have asked him about his life in Holland, about his years as a chauffeur, about how he got started farming. But at 10 years of age I didn’t even know what history was, or that years later I would lament not learning his story. His-story. History.
My introduction to history was the same as most anybody’s in North America — school. It was facts and dates in dry boring textbooks and lectures from, predominantly, dry boring teachers. There was no life to it. There should have been. History is about people. People experience things; they have stories that need to be told. The subject would be more memorable if it centered on the stories of the people who lived through a particular time period .
I love history now. I love it because I’ve read about people who lived through it. I’ve visited places where historical “facts” happened. My hope is that I can become the kind of storyteller that makes my history and the history of my family and the people I’ve known come to life.
How do you feel about history? Is it dead and boring? Or is it full of life and exciting? Are you inspired to write a memoir, weaving in the history of family and the times they lived through?
By the way… Pebble in the Water is a great resource on the process of writing (e.g. gathering and organizing information, revising, polishing, etc.).