Tag Archives: family history

Writing for yourself

Hiddey-ho Scribblers!  J Monkeys here.  Happy Saturday to you and yours.  I’ve been thinking about audience lately, because I’ve been working on so many different projects this past year and they are for all different audiences.  One audience I’ve been writing for is a very small one – just my family. 

I’m working on a cookbook that features family recipes.  I’ve been collecting hand written recipe cards, some recently penned, and some written generations ago by folks long gone.  There’s something about a person’s handwriting that I think is fun to pass down from generation to generation.  I’ve scanned the recipe cards, and added a picture of the “chef” and a quick blurb about that person. 

It’s hard to sum up a person in three sentences – people are much too complex for that – but one thing I’ve kept in mind is the audience.  What would I want future generations to know about the last few?  I mean, my grandmother and I had major issues, but that isn’t necessarily what I’d want my great-grandchildren to know about her.  And too, some of these recipes come from folks I never knew or didn’t know well.  I’ve relied on others to share their thoughts but I’ve been careful to be sure all of the blurbs have a common tone.

Click here for an sample page from my upcoming book Gastro-Genealogy.  Unfortunately it doesn’t lend itself to cut and pasting.

Today’s Secret: don’t forget the value in writing for yourself and a small (tiny?) audience of loved ones as well as trying to reach the populace at large.

Today’s Question: What kinds of foods do you have at your family get togethers?  We have pretty much the same things at every occasion…




The Mother of All BLTs

Hiddey Ho Scribblers!  J Monkeys here.  Sadly, I won’t be able to respond to your comments until Monday because I’m at my annual Scrapbooking Retreat this weekend!  Yay!  Let’s just pretend that whole Blizzard thing isn’t looming.

I love a good story and to me, no story is more interesting that the story of our lives.  I can’t tell you how much I wish my grandmother had kept a journal during her life.  She was born in 1909, the 7th of 8 children and she died in 2006, just a couple of weeks short of her 95th birthday.  She lived through so much of what I view as “history”.  WWI, The Great Depression, WWII, the really icy bits of the Cold War, the advent of electricity, the phone, the radio, the TV – all of those were things were new at some point in her life time.  She used to tell us how when she was a child, the ice-man would drive his horse and buggy to their house in East Hartford, CT to deliver blocks of ice for the ice-box.  To her dying day, she called the refrigerator an ice-box.

Now, my grandmother and I had issues.  I’ve probably alluded to them in the past; she wasn’t a happy woman and like to be sure that many of the people around her were unhappy, too.  But I bet, if she had kept a diary of some kind, I might be able to figure out why she was so unhappy.  And that would mean a lot to me.  Her siblings weren’t unhappy.  My aunt Grace (my g-mom’s next oldest sibling) was a very upbeat lady, with a ho-ho-ho belly laugh.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen Auntie died (that’s what we all called Aunt Grace, now I’m Auntie to a new generation, which is really cool) I helped clean out her house.  In her basement, I found an old photo-album.  The pictures were likely taken in the 30’s or 40’s or something.  They are glued onto black construction paper-like stuff and the whole thing is tied together with twine.  The worst thing is this: there are no notes or captions for the pictures.  Clearly, the pictures, people and events were importOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAant enough to her to go to the expense and effort of making the book, but she’s gone now and those stories can’t carry on.

So one of the things that I do when I scrapbook is to write notes of what the picture is about or why I liked it.  Those in the Scrapbooking trade (and if you don’t know about the scrapbooking trade you are missing out on a billion dollar business!) call that “journaling.”  I do some journaling, but I’m more of a snarky-caption kind of girl.  I think that my boys and even my grandchildren will (hopefully!) realize that those captions say as much about me as they do about the photo.

And one other thing about scrappin’ before I leave you and go do it – I don’t have any photos of my life before college, which is when I started my very first photo-album.  My mom has some albums of my childhood which I’ll likely inherit someday, but I don’t have anything now, when I think my kids might find them interesting.  My mom doesn’t have them handy, they’re packed away from her last house move before the kids were born.  So in addition to making albums for me, I’m making albums for my kids to have when they are older.  Each kid has an album.  When they get old enough to be interested in doing the crafty part of it, I’ll have him or her help me.  Yes it means I’m printing 4 copies of a few hundred pictures each year (this year I’ve printed 4 copies of more than 500 pictures) but I think it’s a small price to pay.  Pictures are cheap these days.  I think I’ve paid something in the neighbor hood of $125 for all the 2012 pictures.  If I hadn’t left for the last minute, I probably could have gotten them even cheaper online somewhere.

Today’s secret: take the time to print off some of those zillion photos you have on your digital camera and phone.  Stick them in an album and write a few notes so that when you are gone, your descendents will be able to know you a little.

Today’s question: what do you do with your extra photos?  I invariably print more than I use and the extras are sitting in boxes in my office.

Bonus Secret: I almost forgot to tell you what the title of this post has to do with scrapbooking!  YIKES.  My annual scrap-retreat is down in Westbrook CT.  And every year, when I get there a moment or two after the places opens (Papercraft Clubhouse – it’s awesome!) on Friday, I go over to the Westbrook Deli and order a sandwich that is good enough to wait a year for: The Mother of all BLTs.  It’s a grinder with like a pound of bacon on it!  YUM.  Sadly, they aren’t open on the weekend and I won’t get one this year because of the stinky blizzard.  But there’s always next year!


The Russian Coat

The Russian coat is packed a plastic bag, still on the floor of my office because I have no idea what to do with it.  For one thing, it has a history.  Back in my older son’s senior year of high school, the class, in conjunction with a course in Russian literature, travelled to Russia during spring break.  My son left wearing a blue ski jacket when he boarded the plane.  When he arrived back at the airport a week later, he had this thick woolen brass buttoned military coat: the Russian coat.

That coat went with him to university in Chicago, it and he enduring four years of minus zero degree winter weather (and how glad I was he had it) and then it came back home and into the hands of my younger son who wore it for the last two years of high school and beyond.  At that point, my older son was working overseas, we were on the cusp of moving to CT, and as we were cleaning things out, I thought maybe it was time to donate the Russian coat.

My eldest was adamant that we shouldn’t. The Russian coat had a story, it was his story, his history;  it  was part of his growing up. We had strict orders not to donate the Russian coat.  By that time, it was in pretty bad shape:  it needed a really good going over, repair, and a major cleaning.  Was it worth all that if it was just going to be packed away and nobody was planning to wear it ever again?

As I’ve written previously, my mother was born in Russia; my grandparents emigrated here in the 1930’s so I’m not without some sentiment on this matter.  I feel that pull to keep some connection to a history that’s in my blood if not in my consciousness.

But maybe there’s a different story about the Russian coat that I, the granddaughter and daughter of those immigrants and romance author, have yet to excavate from its tattered remains. I mean, this could be my Doctor Zhivago moment if I’m ever bold enough to grab it.

Until I’m certain of it, though, I’m feeling, fatalistically, that the Russian coat just might be with us forever.  So it sits, a victim of inertia, bundled up, on the floor of my office and I nudge it every once and while, and wonder what to do with it. I try to imagine that moment my son actually came into possession of it, and wonder whether actually having the object is necessary if you’ll always have the memory.  I wonder if this is how we all get stuck with the objects of our memories that we just can’t bear to relinquish.  And if the reason we hold onto objects is to hold on to our history in order to assure that our children and grandchildren know and remember that we were here.

How many things have tethered you because of memories?  Are they inspiration or clutter? Are you someone who can easily let go of objects?  Or do you hold onto things forever?  Is your house as cluttered as mine? What would you have done with the Russian coat?

Thea Devine is nearly finished with Beyond The Night, the sequel to The Darkest Heart, to be released April 2013.  She’s pleased to announce the reissue of His Little Black Book in October.