Writing Memoir – How Do You Remember So Much?

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For the past few years writing memoir has been my major focus, recording aspects of my life in the 1950s and 1960s. By capturing small snippets of my everyday life, I’ve been able to preserve memories from the past. The above photo certainly is my first recalled memory of going swimming, something that became a major focus of my teenage years.

After the publication of my 1950s school memoir, ‘West End the Best End – School Memories from the 1950s’ many people asked me, “How do you remember so much?  I’d forgotten all those things.” I don’t think my memory is any better than other people, but I’ve trained myself to recall incidents hiding somewhere in my brain. I also discovered the more I write my memories down, the more I remember.

I think one of the most important things is to keep your memoir writer’s brain switched on at all times. Almost anything you do in everyday life can be a trigger to memories from a previous time in your life. You need only to be receptive to the triggers around you. A supermarket queue can prompt memories of grocery shopping in earlier times. The doctor’s waiting room can prompt memories of childhood sickness.

One powerful trigger of my own memories is talking to other people. As I wrote my school memoir I engaged similar aged people in conversation about their own school days. Often they’d remember something I’d forgotten and so yet another memory surfaced. Other people love to share their past and once they’re aware you’re working on a memoir project they’re usually happy to compare notes of similar experiences. This adds depth to your own memories. I’ll certainly be talking to many of the people in the swim team below as I work on my latest project, the story of our local swimming baths in the 1960s.

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Old photos also enable memories to be recalled.  When you look at an old photo try and recall as much about the occasion as you can and write your memories down. Ask other people who may remember the photographed event about  their memories of the occasion.

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Reading other material, both fiction and non-fiction from the period being written about is another way of bringing memories back, reminding you how people behaved at the time, giving authenticity to your writing.

Always think of yourself as a memoir writer and keep your mind open. You never know when a little detail will present itself to you. Write remembered incidents down as soon as you can. It doesn’t matter if anecdotal stories are written out of order. There’s plenty of time to organize them and improve your writing later. The important thing is to start writing. You’ll be surprised how easily memories start flowing in.

Do you use other ideas that act as memory triggers? Be sure to share them with us here.

Celebrating the Month of May

May is a special month for me, being the month of my father’s birthday, my wedding anniversary and Mother’s Day. In New Zealand May falls in Autumn, when the leaves are at their brightest colour and the weather can’t make up its mind to let go of summer. May is also my middle name, my father being so disappointed I wasn’t a boy who could be named after him, insisted I took the month of his birth as my name. I’m pleased my mother convinced him May sounded better as a middle name.

May holds another story for me though, a story that took place over fifty years ago when a teacher taught us how to dance around a Maypole.  Imagine the task of teaching a group of eight and nine year old children with no prior knowledge of maypole dancing.  We’d never seen nor heard of this English custom and had no visual support such as You Tube in those days. Our teacher and a few pictures in books helped us along the way.

The teacher, pictured now all these years later on my “About” and “Recently Published” pages, obviously knew the challenge ahead. Practices must have tried his patience, but little by little we learned to dance the steps he required. Eventually we graduated to ribbons. By the time our parents saw us perform as part of a larger pageant, we danced with perfection as we wound our ribbons around the pole, in and out, creating an intricate pattern.

It may not have been Spring in New Zealand when we danced, but a love of learning was planted within me during my two years with that teacher. The maypole dance was only one of many fun activities he introduced to us to help us with our learning. I often think back to that colourful maypole during the month of May.

May is a month of celebration for many around the world. How do you celebrate during the month of May?

Playing Marbles 1950s and Present Day

Mention playing marbles and most people can recall stories of their childhood. The game has been around for hundreds of years and continues in popularity today.

I arrived at a local school today and to my delight the kids in the playground were playing marbles before school. The scene differed a little from my own school days in the 1950s, but the games purpose remained the same – to compete against a partner, trying to win your opponent’s marble rather than lose your own.

In the classroom I talked to the students about my own marble playing days and read the following passage from my 1950s school memoir book.

“Winter saw the emergence of marbles and knucklebones as favoured playtime and lunchtime activities. Marble season lasted a short time, the length possibly being dictated by teachers tolerance of arguments and upset players.

When marble season arrived I pleaded for pocket money and bought marbles from a toy shop in a corner of the Square. Mum made a little cloth drawstring bag to keep them in.  I’d start the season with a selection of small cats eyes, clear glass marbles with a colourful piece of glass in the centre and larger more sought after marbles called biggies. It wasn’t often I managed to win a steely to add to my collection.

We played at the edge of the field, on dry mud surfaces or where the grass was short. My marble collection was precious and I hated losing even the most boring looking marble, so I chose my playing partners carefully. The aim was to hit another marble, thus winning it from it’s owner, I didn’t want to go home with an empty bag. Sometimes my luck was in and I’d win a biggie off another player. Or, when a player was down on their luck they’d offer to swap a biggie for two cats eyes, keeping them in play.

Those unlucky enough to have empty marble bags watched on. Player concentration demanded silence and the click of glass marbles hitting each other preceded a triumphant cry from the winner.”

The children fascinated me by showing me the range of marbles now available to them. The largest, called Titanics, were so big I couldn’t imagine their small hands manipulating them with ease.

We discussed the differences in their game and mine, the major being I played on grass while they played on the asphalt courtyard. In my day we gathered in small groups. These children lined up in rows, facing their opponent, but still taking turns.

One boy complained that no one wanted to play marbles with him, as he is considered one of the best players and the others didn’t want to lose their marbles to him. So, some things haven’t changed.

Did you play marbles as a child? What are your memories of the rules of the game? What were the marbles like you played with? Take a trip down memory lane and tell us about your own marble playing experiences.