Thirteen years ago tomorrow I made my first contact with my birth family. I was in my late fifties, and the reason I sought them out was to discover my health history. A few years earlier I had been diagnosed with a rare bleeding disorder, and I’d undergone many procedures to treat it. My initial hope was to find out if anyone else in the family had this disorder.
Fortunately, I found my first cousin. When he asked who I was and what I wanted, he was incredulous and said he’d get back to me. In his words, “I had a right to know.” My cousin remained true to his word, and the next day he put me in touch with my birth mother, brother, and sister. (My father, who married my birth mother when I was ten months old and she was expecting my brother, had died only thirteen months earlier. They remained married for fifty-five years.)
I had no expectations. (more…)
A few weeks ago I almost stepped on a small snake as it slithered across the path in my front yard. I jumped back, startled, and the snake continued on its way along the side of our house. My heart beat rapidly as our dog Beau and I ran inside to share the news and look up the type of snake online. I discovered that we had just seen a king snake, a good one to have around because it’s a predator of rattlesnakes and rodents.
This wasn’t the first time I encountered a snake near the house. Years ago, on a hot July Fourth weekend, a gopher snake sought shade between a planter and the wall near our front door. My husband and our dog Shannon had not noticed it when they went out. I was about to leave with Shannon’s brother, Duffy, when I saw the snake stretched across the doorsill. “Step over it,” my husband said. (more…)
The new year is already ten days old, but I still wish people a Happy New Year when I encounter them. Starting the new year with positive wishes seems only right.
As a personal historian for more than eighteen years, I helped people remember their pasts. Sometimes their pasts held painful memories that my subjects did not wish to share. I respected their wishes, thinking about my own past and some of the pain therein. (more…)
In 2003 I began writing The Spirit of Villarosa as a ghostwriter for another personal historian. The manuscript I created was based on interviews with my current co-author, Marc Ashton, whose story forms the basis of the book, and transcripts his father, Horace Dade Ashton, left behind. After I began writing this father-son story, my employer asked me to add a third narrative about the son’s kidnapping. The assignment to weave three different narratives into a single story became the most challenging I’d encountered in my years as a writer. I did my best, but the completed book did not meet the son’s expectations. (more…)
Many times during my nearly two-decade career as a personal historian, people have approached me and said that they should write a book.
“Why?” I’ve always asked.
Their responses have varied, but they included life lessons and values they wished to share, helping and honoring others, surviving insurmountable odds, finding careers about which they were passionate, demonstrating the importance of service, hoping to put their lives in order after being diagnosed with serious illnesses, and sharing their successes.
Some of the stories I agreed to write pro bono. I could not refuse the woman who was nearly 100 years old and had lived in two centuries, experiencing many changes, or the young wife and mother suffering from metastatic cancer.
I was paid well for other tales, but I often think I learned more and earned more than money from my work. I found common themes that touched all lives, and I discovered that most families have issues, some more than others. By helping other people tell their stories, I found a way to make sense of my own life and decided that my story might help others. That’s why I began writing my own series of memoirs, beginning with What Lies Within.
Recently I discovered a book of essays by memoirists that included Annie La Mott and Cheryl Strayed, titled Why We Write About Ourselves. The book’s contributors wrote about different themes and events, but all seemed to agree that one reason they wrote about themselves was to help others.
I hope that my tales will do the same.