Blending Your Stories with those of Your Community

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As we know, writing life stories is popular at the moment, recording stories from our past so they are not lost to future generations. We may all think we have nothing special to tell but, from experience, what we find everyday and uneventful, others find fascinating.

Have you ever considered blending your stories with those of your community? Social stories give a reader so much information about the past. Take the hotel in the photo above for example. There are many stories I could tell about this building, from my own family and personal experience back to fascinating things I’ve learned about its history.

All communities have buildings that have been demolished, replaced with more modern constructions. There are also buildings that may be in danger of vanishing some time in the near future. If the stories relating to these buildings are not recorded, part of your community social history is lost.

Why not blend your own stories with those of your community. Start writing them down while you can.

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1950s Memories of The Esplanade, Palmerston North, NZ

Place names didn’t mean much to me as a child. The Esplanade was a park we went to on family outings at the weekend. We usually walked there from our home a few blocks away.

In recent times I’ve wondered about it’s name, Victoria Esplanade, to discover it was planned to commemorate the 60th jubilee of Queen Victoria in the late 1900s. Something still didn’t seem right. In my mind an esplanade is something you walk along beside the sea. We’re an inland city, no sea in sight, but we do sit beside a river and, yes, the Esplanade gardens and walkway are situated beside the river.

The Esplanade has changed a lot since my childhood, but is still rather a special place in the city. My first memories are of the paddling pool. One warm summer Sunday my mother wheeled my new baby sister in her cane pram, while I pedalled along beside her on my new red trike delivered by Father Christmas. I still remember the delight of being able to splash to my heart’s content for what seemed like all afternoon as my mother sat and watched, chatting to the other mums.

Sometimes we went to listen to the local brass band playing in the rather grand bandstand, an impressive occasion to me as a child. Once the band had finished we were allowed to play in the bandstand, running around and around until we became quite dizzy.

A few years later, while attending the nearby school, our teacher took us to the Esplanade to study the native birds, listening to their bird song and hopefully snatching fleeting glances of the birds in the trees, those brave enough or curious enough to wonder about the mass of children on the path below.

Not long after that much of the luxurious bush was cut and cleared, but a small patch still remains, making the walk along the river path a pleasant one.

Now, more than 115 years later, we can be thankful for the foresight of the early city fathers who, having arrived from England and finding themselves in a landlocked community, may have missed walking along the esplanades of their seaside towns. By creating and naming this riverside space The Esplanade they could recreate some of the memories of home.

 The Esplanade remains a popular place for outings with both young and old.

 

Writing the Book is Only Part of the Story

I’ve allowed myself three years to write the story of the local swimming pool I frequented as a teenager. I didn’t realize how many new skills I’d need along the way. I’m a writer and this is a story I want to tell. I thought I’d research and write and produce a book. Wrong! The reality is this book is taking me on an amazing learning journey.

My book is a local history one, a social history, the story of the local Municipal Baths from 1917 until closure in 1966.That sounds easy, gathering up information and writing. But there’s more to a book than that, as many of you wiser than me already know. I feel as if I’m undertaking a personal three year on-going education course – and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

Of course, there’s the research. This is new for me and I’m already learning rapidly. The people at my local library are amazing, showing me where to locate information and how to access it. The old newspapers are giving me an insight into community reaction to the building of the baths in their town. The Archives contain lots of valuable data. I’ve been recording my own anecdotal stories and will soon be delving into stories from people who experienced the baths long before I did.

The research will continue for a long time yet. I hadn’t ventured too far into the project when I realized I needed to put this story into context. What was the local community like at the time, especially in the 1920s and 1930s? I’m off to the library and onto the internet, gathering stories of the local community and the swimming world of the time.

All this sounds fine, but the book needs to written in a style appealing to a wide readership. I hope to blend facts with my personal stories. This will involve a different style from  my writing so far. I enrolled in an online Creative Non- fiction writing course and this is proving a wise investment of time and money. I’ve been reading a book about undertaking research. I’m also reading books, both novels and factual, which weave backwards and forwards in time, rather than tell a chronological story. I’m getting a feel for how my book will be written.

I’m now six months into my project. My writing skills are improving, I’m getting more skilled at research and I’m becoming e of a social and local historian. Who said writing a book was easy? But I can tell you from personal experience, learning as you go is lots of fun.

A few Beers Shared with a Circus Star

In the 1950s my Dad liked to stop off at one of the local pubs for a beer on his way home from work. Pubs closed at 6 o’clock in those days, so there wasn’t any problem of having too much to drink or coming home too late for dinner. What he did at the pub didn’t interest me, until he came home filled with the story of having a beer with one of the circus stars.

The circus train trundled into town once a year, bringing with it all the excitement of the big top. The train ran through the centre town, arriving late afternoon. And it always stopped a few hundred metres from the railway station, quite close to the Grand Hotel. A small entourage left the train at that point, workers keen to throw back a few drinks before they started setting up for the next day. The group on its way to the hotel included one very excited fellow, one circus star who looked forward to throwing back his beer more than any of the others.

Dad arrived home that day at the usual time, quite animated and with a story to tell. We thought he’d had a few too many at first, but no, while the beers may have helped in the telling, his story focussed on who he’d been drinking with – one rather hairy, beer drinking orang-utan.

Now remember, those were the days when no one considered the rights and wrongs of animals working in circuses. And this old orang-utan loved his beer. No doubt he’d have refused to perform without it.

When the train rolled to a halt, the orang-utan’s work mates pulled out a pram, one of those old cane ones, and he leapt in, ready for the short ride to the pub. He clapped and waved his hairy arms in anticipation. He knew why the train had stopped and where he could swill back his nightly allowance.

No doubt this stunt was an arrangement between the hotel owners and the circus, as the event always attracted quite a few locals eager to share a drink and a few stories. Dad certainly enjoyed telling his story of the night he drank with an orang-utan for many years to come.

At the circus the next day we enjoyed all the acts, laughing at the clowns and oohing over the trapeze artists. But the highlight was the beer drinking orang-utan. It was our Dad’s drinking mate we’d come to see. After all, once you’ve shared a few drinks with a friend he almost becomes one of the family.

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Writing Memoir Combined with Local History

My first published writing project, a 1950s school memoir, has proved a success and left me wanting to stretch myself further. At first I thought I’d work on another memoir, one set in a place close to my heart when I was growing up.

Competitive swimming occupied my teenage years in the 1960s and my time spent in intensive training coincided with the last five years of the local community baths, before a new impressive swimming complex was built and opened. The old baths became like a second home to me and I wanted to write the story of its last years.

The school Centenary I attended in the weekend brought me in contact again with two swimmers from those teenage years and, as one does at a school reunion, we got talking and sharing stories, not just of the old baths but of swimming in our small province. I didn’t realise at the time, but our conversation became a turning point. A new idea crept into my head, planted itself and started the life of a new book.

Next day I shared the swimming conversation with my husband, also a swimmer from the same period. It became obvious a larger story needed telling. I now need to stretch my writing skills and try something a little more challenging.

The story of the old Municipal Baths in my town needs to be told. The baths first opened in 1917 and lasted just short of fifty years before the new swimming complex was opened in 1966. 2016 will mark fifty years since the closure of the special place in my heart.

The baths story will be told through a combination of local history and memoir. My own life story will be intermingled with the life story of this very popular meeting place for the young people of the town. Three years to research, write and produce this story should be more than enough.

I’m quite excited at the prospect of extending myself. I’m hoping my idea of combining the story of my connection with the baths in the last five years along with the wider community story of the baths through its short life will work.

I know challenges lie ahead of me, especially the extensive research needed. I’m looking forward to sharing my story here, both snippets of my life stories and the things I learn about writing along the way. If any readers have attempted this combination of writing memoir and local history before I’d love to learn about your experience.