How to write a book, without causing law suits, Holiday stand-offs or committing acts of Familial Treason might be a better title for this week’s post 😉
So many would-be Storytellers stop short when pen is about to hit the page. Why? Because there can be some real #$%-storms created just by telling the truth. I’m not talking “truth” as in “deep dark secrets kept firmly pinned under a well swept rug”–I’m talking about common-place “truths” within each family.
I wrote a post a couple of years back about such situations, and it struck nerves through to the marrow with many readers. It has appeared in assorted printed and on-line journals since its humble beginnings here, and hopefully, prevented a few fist fights over the Easter ham.
I’ve included the link to Duck and Cover here for your review. And yes, if you must know, I–Mom–am the little kid in the foreground of the photo picking her nose! Duck and Cover discusses some of the bigger issues. Today, we’re talking about the smaller ones.
In a recent post, I referred to one of my Aunt’s as a horrible cook–someone who brought stuff to the family pitch-ins that rivaled the festive Jello/ Meow Mix creations of the Aunt Bethany character from National Lampoon’s film “Christmas Vacation.” I happen to love that movie, and will watch it any time of year, because it is a barely exaggerated portrayal of my own familys’ get-togethers.
I mention Aunt Sadie’s umm–make that Aunt Bethany’s–Jello mold because in most open family forums it is perfectly acceptable to reel with laughter, our noses crinkled in disgust as we recall some of her “best” dishes.
What is “off limits” though, is the discussion of why Sadie thought that stuff was OK to bring as her “covered dish.” In simple terms: My Aunt was nuts. Certifiable, but tolerated–crazy.
Crazy, not like “haha funny.” Crazy, as in truly ill, in need of medication, and would have likely benefited from close supervision in a controlled environment; that kind of “crazy.”
She was the kind of Aunt that Ross Perot spoke of during his presidential run–Ross’ people would have kept her locked in the attic.
My family averted their eyes, avoided her “food” and laughed heartily at her annoying outbursts, extended rants, and gelatinous grey-brown side dishes once she was out of earshot. This same set of behavioral traits was passed on to a couple of her kids. And though most of us have lost touch with that “branch” I would imagine Sadie’s grandchildren are all susceptible to the same conditional maladies.
Nevertheless, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter gatherings would not have been the same without Mass followed by the side-bets and anticipation of what Sadie would show up:
2. toting … and
3. saying loudly to a filled or empty room!
When I wrote Aunt Sadie’s story, I chose to focus on her early life; who raised her and how she met and married her husband. I told of the children they had together, even the one they lost, and then left her “behaviors” as a separate piece. I shifted gears and told fully of her “antics” at family gatherings, referring to them as the later-years, eccentric, quirky ways that kept us all on our toes. It’s all written there, without diagnostics (I’m not qualified for that–and she’s no longer here to be clinically assessed).
What I hoped to leave behind was an honest glimpse of how I saw her through the eyes of the child that I was. Also, how the adults around me and my cousins seeing the same situations unfold, set the tone of the children’s perception by how they reacted to her zany behavior. I also reflected a bit on how my cousins and I can gather to this day and remember very little about many of those holidays–outside of the floor-show put on by Aunt Sadie.
You will certainly find some equally touchy situations and relationships in your own family storytelling. Don’t let those few stop you from writing your family book. Be kind, be clear, don’t be vindictive or inadvertently pass your unsubstantiated opinions to others. Don’t make assumptions where you don’t know.
And don’t treat anyone like a one-dimensional cartoon character.Remember that all of us will have a beginning, a middle and an end to our lives. Time, age, and events all alter the path between the our birth and the finish line.
If you are completely deadlocked on writing, take a look at Write the Worst and see if that helps free you up. Sometimes, just switching sides will help. If Mom’s family tree is too gnarly, start with Dad’s instead–or go back much farther to stories that happened way before you and write your first Family History book about a great, great grandparent’s life. Sometimes all you need is a little distance as a cushion to get you started.
What are your hard ones? Share them as hypothetical here in the comments and let your supportive fellow readers and writers offer up some suggestions for getting past the sticking points. I’m gonna bet that there are not many “hypothetical situations” I haven’t heard 😉
Maybe I’ve even written some of them down...