I didn’t go to Iowa to write about Daddy.
Yet writing memoir in a fiction class worked fine since similar rules apply. While the learning challenged me, the hardest part of Iowa has been returning to the real world where distractions exist and writing deadlines don’t.
Those who know me will attest I’m kindred spirits with the White Rabbit, as I’m always “late for an important date.” I put off to the last-minute what I can and fill in the space with the rather-dos of life. When desperately into avoidance, I settle for rather-not-dos. Today, for instance, I weeded my front garden and my neighbor’s garden next door.
While I’ll not name my avoidance du Jour, I’ll confess ancestry research has become the mother lode of all distractions. From the comfort of a computer chair, I swirl around in a digital whirlpool of documents. Old census reports, immigration records and phone books, as well as a treasure chest of old newspapers for the entire state of New York. It’s hard to come up for air when diving in the old gene pool.
Hours pass with nothing in hand. Then, with a click of my mouse, I run across a rare find — a prominent 1943 newspaper article in the Schenectady Gazette featuring my Greek grandfather and his second wife. The story is full of facts like their marriage date, where Papa and his wife had lived the week before, where Papa had parked his two children — my dear father and aunt. Running across this jewel kept me going for another five hours straight in the hope of another big find.
While I didn’t go to Iowa to write about Daddy, I began my gene pool dives to feed my story of Dad. My first day back from Iowa, I wrote this in my paper journal:
“I must not put away Daddy’s story. It was alive Thursday night as I wrote it and Friday afternoon as I read it aloud to my review partners. So here are the things I will do to feed “it”. I wrote of my desire to visit with Aunt Carol each week to record her’s and Dad’s story in detail. I wrote of converting home-made movies my parents took from 8mm film to DVD. I believe both will help ripen Dad’s story within me, while ancestor research will help fuel talks with Aunt Carol.
Today I pulled that old photo of my young grandfather with his sister Mary and brother Theo — the bookend at the top of this post. Lying beneath it, was another old photo of my young mother standing at a trade show booth, while three others sat beside her. Had I not pulled out the top photo, I would never have known of one hiding beneath.
This sandwich of old photos becomes good analogy for what happens when writing memoir…or for what happens when diving in the old gene pool. You begin with one photo or story and end with another. Neither is more valuable. Both work to tell the story.