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Posts tagged ‘family history’

The Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

May 21, 2015

Susan Marg

When writing a life of family history, we all struggle for the truth. But the truth is a funny thing. It’s shielded by feelings and clouded by memory.

Illustration by: © marish

Illustration by: © marish

In his 1997 memoir All Over but the Shoutin’, Rick Bragg writes of his childhood, growing up poor in the deep South, essentially fatherless, but supported by a hard-working mother and her family. He describes his restlessness, moving around before settling down as a journalist, never forgetting his kith and kin.

Bragg believes he was born to write. As he tells it, “The only thing I was ever any good at was in the telling and hearing of stories, and there was no profit in that. I cannot truthfully even say that I went to work for my high school newspaper because of a love for writing. Writing was hard work. It made your hand cramp, and I couldn’t type a lick. Telling stories was something you did on your porch.”

But telling stories also got Bragg writing assignments working for small town newspapers across the South. He eventually earned an award fellowship to Harvard University. The New York Times hired him as a journalist.

Of New York City, he writes, “Through one of the coldest, nastiest winters on record, I roamed that giant, confusing place, but to say I searched for stories would be a lie. I did not have to search. New York hurled stories at you like Nolan Ryan throws fastballs. All you had to do was catch them, and try not to get your head knocked off.”

Bragg won a Pulitzer for his writing, but his proudest moments came from telling the truth. Of his work he says, “It wasn’t that I had gotten it right – God knows I mess up a lot – but that I had gotten it true.”

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Have You Read a Good Memoir Lately?

November 14, 2014

Susan Marg

UnknownMary Karr’s The Liars’ Club was first published in 1995, and it is often mentioned as kicking off the memoir craze. In her book the author reflects on her turbulent childhood in a small, smelly industrial Texas town in the early sixties. Alcohol-fueled fights and emotional disturbances were everyday occurrences.

In the introduction to an edition published ten years later, Carr commented on the response she received to her book. Liar’s Club was “odd,” she wrote, “not so much in the boatload of mail it generated, but in the length and intensity of letters. At the peak of its selling cycle, when it hovered at number two on The New York Times bestseller list for months, I got four hundred to five hundred letters a week…”

“How many of those letters began. ‘I’ve never told anybody this, but…?’ I didn’t count. A bunch.”

Memoirs resonate with our lives, whether the author addresses growing up, raising a family, dealing with old age, or all of the above in sadness or with humor. If done well they inspire and encourage. They might even motivate us to commit our own memories to paper.

One is never too old or too young to take on a life or family history project. Maya Angelou wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when she was 41 years old. She was 85 years old when she wrote Mom and Me and Mom, the last of her seven autobiographies.

If you do put pen to paper, remember that you’re not competing with anyone else or comparing your life – or your writing — with those of others. You’re doing it for yourself, possibly to see how far you’ve come in life or to leave a legacy for your children and their children.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Who’s in the Kitchen?

October 15, 2014

Susan Marg

No one is in the kitchen, not even Dinah. Nor is anyone making dinner, not even “simple, easy, everyday meals,” per chef Mark Bittman in the October 20 issue of Time.

No one's in the kitchen. No one's home. Photo by: designbuildinhabit.

No one’s in the kitchen. No one’s home. Photo by: designbuildinhabit.

That’s a shame for a lot of reasons.

As Bittman points out, it’s so much healthier to eat at home. A home-cooked meal, compared to the same served in a restaurant, has two hundred fewer calories. It’s less expensive, too.

Sure, eating out is convenient. That’s why fast-food restaurants are so popular. But, when was the last time you had a real conversation at MacDonald’s or Burger King or even Chipotle? Do you even remember your last meal in an In-N-Out? Who were you with? What did you talk about? Did you try something new?

Currently, Del Webb, the retirement community developer, is running a slice-of-life commercial narrated by a young-looking senior citizen who proudly claims, “I never cooked Thai food in my life, and now I’m cooking it for twenty people.” Well, I used to laugh at the ad, thinking the spokesman had nerve treating his guests no better than guinea pigs. Now, I think, why not.

Why not step out of your comfort zone? Why not learn a new skill and make new friends? As a personal historian, I’m all for creating memories, as well as recording the past.

By the way, those of you who didn’t catch my reference to “Dinah in the kitchen” probably never had the pleasure of singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” around a campfire. You can make up for lost time by listening to Muffin cartoon characters here. I’m sure any resemblance to “Hell on Wheels” is purely coincidental.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

What’s for Dinner?

September 7, 2014

Susan Marg

Today’s Parade magazine in the Sunday morning paper was all about “What America Eats.” It was loaded with statistics.

Fish tacos with mango salsa. We love to try something new.  Photo  by: jpellgen

Fish tacos with mango salsa. We love to try something new. Photo by: jpellgen

Sometimes I was with the majority and, other times, with the minority. For example, 71% of us take supplements. That’s my husband and me. He meticulously dishes them out to take with meals. If we’re eating out, he puts them in old film canisters to take with us.

However, only 12% have a sweet after dinner. We fall in this category, too – his influence. He saves room for dessert. As much as I like sweets, his portion is almost always larger than mine.

95% said they had started diets on either a Sunday or a Monday. Nope, that’s not me. I start diets every day of the week.

11% said they don’t have anything at all at breakfast. Nope, that’s not me either. I always have a cup or two of coffee.

The Parade article doesn’t go into how we eat. We’re all too aware that we don’t often sit down as a family at dinnertime anymore. Who has the time? As Marie Rudisill notes in her memoir Ask Me Anything:

“So much has changed since I was growing up or, even later, raising a family, and not necessarily for the better. That probably sounds like an old person’s point of view, but today, young or old, it’s rush, rush, rush. Go to school. Go to the office. Go to band practice or football practice or yoga. Go to the dentist. Cut the lawn. Wash the car. Do the laundry. Study, study, study. Pay bills. Pay attention. Meet that deadline. Work, work, work. And don’t forget to do your homework. Whew! Does that sound like a good way to live to you? Who has time to peel a carrot? Dice an onion? Chop up a melon? I guess no one, since everything now comes in little plastic containers already peeled, diced and chopped.”

Even as family rituals have changed, everyone has a favorite food or oft-visited restaurant. What are yours? They can be a meaningful part of a  life or family history.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved