Monday, September 21, 2015

Memoir: Memories Lost and Found

Marcia Moston

September means back to school for me too, as I begin my fall workshops on memoir at the OLLI center on the Furman campus. For many of us who have now reached the front of the line, with no parents left ahead to buffer our illusion of immortality, assessing where we’ve been and what we’ve done plays as big a part as figuring our what we’re going to do.

I don’t think looking back is a maudlin activity, but rather a chance to sort out some things for ourselves and to pass on a legacy for those we love. At the very least it’s an opportunity to let the kids and grandkids know we actually were young once.

One way to stir up filed-away, but not forgotten, moments is to go through old pictures.
I found a box of slides I wanted to see, but didn’t want to pay to have professionally developed. Surprise, surprise, Google knows a way for us DIYers to get a sneak preview. (There are several sites with various suggestions. I took my inspiration from this YouTube video. ) I taped the slide to a paper with a square cut out for the light and then taped a plain piece behind the hole to diffuse the light. I clamped the whole affair into my husband’s workbench vice and propped up a desk lamp behind it. (Better just go check out the video.) Then I took a picture of it.

Several slides were from a time I was a VISTA volunteer on a Chippewa reservation in Minnesota. By going through the slides from this period I came up with lots of different directions I could go in writing an essay, article, or part of a memoir.

The black dress at the top was a heavily beaded ceremonial dress. I could tell an anecdote about learning to bead and how my younger brother and sister back in Vermont peddled my necklaces to their teachers and friends—or about women’s roles in a pow wow dance, or about the time my partner and I crawled through the woods to spy on a secret gathering of the tribal council.

Then there was the day our boss, a pure born Chippewa, let us take his place wild ricing. I poled the boat through the rice field while another VISTA used sticks (knockers) to tap the grains of rice into the boat. (and managed to smoke a cigarette at the same time!) We learned to winnow the rice, and play the market as prices from the buyers rose and fell.(Article on wild ricing a la Native American? )
(I got lazy here and just took a picture of the slide held up against the white screen of my computer)

Another photo generated memories about the general store where you could buy saddle shoes, bus tickets, or a shot of whiskey. The store was also the call-in place to get in touch with the police—which is another story—you know—the time the locals ran around our shack, pounding on the tarpaper thin walls to scare us out of town, and Big Red gave us a gun to shoot them with. (We didn’t. We stayed.)

I had a lot of not-so-good memories from this time period. Things I’m not proud of. Sometimes the bad memories are the ones that stick the most. But as I went through these slides, I was reminded of many of the positive things I’d done—helped build a teen center, worked with Headstart kids, genuinely wanted to make a difference.

But just because you’ve done something doesn’t mean it’s interesting  (as I’m afraid many of you are saying about now) but first go through your photos and collect those memories. Then you can sort out which ones fit the story you’ve come to tell and which ones you’ll just have your own private laugh over.

Happy trails down memory lane.

                               . . . and then there was the time they took me snipe hunting. . .

In the joy of the Lord,


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