Friday, April 5, 2013

E is for Elaborate, Embellish, Expound, Enlarge, Expand

Several of my friends indulge in memoir writing. I’ve given it a try too though I’m not sure I have the hang of it.

Fifteen kids were born into my dad’s family. Two died as infants. I can’t imagine having that many children and certainly don’t know why any woman would want to, but to each her own.

Not all dad’s siblings lived in our hometown, but those that did congregated at my grandparent’s house every Sunday for fried chicken, peas and corn bread, mashed potatoes, churned butter and egg custard pies—among other things. My grandma was a wonderful cook. After dinner, all the kids--no matter their age--hurried outside, yanked plums off my grandma's bush and chunked them at each other. We had fun, and there wasn't a squealer in the bunch if one of us got hurt. Looking back, I wonder what the adults talked about inside? Did they argue? Laugh with each other? There's no one to ask. 
My cousin Sallie and I liked to play cowboy and wild horse. Of course, I was the cowboy and galloped behind her, circling the huge cedar tree north of the house, trying my best to rope her with my imaginary rope. For some reason, I was always Jesse James. Probably because my dad was named Jesse and my uncle was James. I was fond of singing, ‘put ‘em together and they’re Jesse James.’ Silly, huh? Every now and then, that little ditty pops into my head.

 I loved these get-togethers, and being with all my cousins. Sometimes the family would meet a few miles away at a roadside park and spread our food on concrete tables and benches. 
To the left is my grandparents' wedding picture. Weren't they beautiful? Papaw (as I called him) would lift me high in the air every time I saw him. He seemed so tall. And in church, the pastor would call on him to pray and he'd kneel on one knee, beside the pew and bow his head. I love that memory.

Life as I knew it ended when my grandfather died in 1956. My mother called my school and told them to have the bus driver drop me off at my grandparent’s house. I remember seeing a wreath on the door and I knew . . . he'd been sick.

Everything changed. Looking back, I wonder if Grandpa demanded his family congregate on Sundays after church. Did they really want to? Was he the Jock Ewing of our family? The glue? Once he was gone, we fell apart. We dribbled into my grandma's house sporadically.
My grandmother’s death 21 years later ended us.  Completely.

I wrote a story about my dad’s family, all those wonderful quirky people that had turned on each other like wild animals. The story went through a number of titles—Grandma’s Revenge, The Day Grandma Died, All in the Family—and won an honorable mention at my very first writers’ conference in San Antonio, Texas. The story never sold but yearned to become a novel. It never did, though every now and then I grab a pencil and paper and try to plot my family’s tale.
Are you wondering where my E-words come in? Well, sadly or maybe gladly, I’ve elaborated, embellished, expounded, enlarged, expanded my story so much and so often, that I really don’t remember what’s true and what isn’t?

When you write a life story, how much do you exaggerate?


Dani said...

I love that you shared this! Great old photos!
Dani @ Entertaining Interests

Ey Wade said...

Sounds a lot like my family. My mom was the baby of 20 children and two passed as infants. She and her 93 year old sister are the only remaining.
We had so many traditions of meeting one house on Sundays, one holidays certain aunts hosted at their house.Easter at the one with the big yard for hunts, Christmas at the one with the big house.
When the Aunts got older it went to the children. My sister at Christmas, mine at Easter, Mom's at Thanksgiving. Now that my sister has passed, we only meet at Mom's.
I love the tradition. Its like the glue to the family

James R Tate said...

Jess. I too come from a large family. I remember the get togethers at grandpas farm, all the cousins running around the yard, playing baseball with the ball, bat, and one glove from the attic. Gives me a feeling of melancholy. Every year we get together for a family reunion. hundreds of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandkids, and great-grandkids show up. Grandma and grandpa passed many years ago, but I still remember who they were and the joy we had. I was just thinking the other day that someone (me) should write about this family so it will live on.

Charles Gramlich said...

I have engaged in a few exercises in memoir, most notably with Days of Beer. I don't think I exaggerate a lot but I'm sure I do some. LIke you, though, who can remember after years what exactly is an exaggeration and what isn't.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Such wonderful memories. There's always one person who is the glue in the family, and it was obviously your grandfather. You should pursue that book about your family.

Robin said...

I write straight fiction, so all I do is exaggerate. My five-year-old likes to tell me I'm the best liar-lol!

Thanks for sharing your memories and pictures.

Helen Baggott - Author Services said...

Lovely photos, thank you for sharing them.

Lexa Cain said...

I haven't written anything biographical. But I think it's sad that with all the pressure of life now, we don't spend enough time with our grandparents and don't ask enough questions about where they came from and what their childhood was like. Then, all of a sudden, they're gone and then our parents are gone, too ... and then there's no one left to ask ...

Sue McPeak said...

You may not be writing your family memoirs in the traditional biographical sense, but what ever you want to call it, your family story is of great interest in the matter of facts. What is perhaps more significant is what can be read between the lines whether it be embellished, expanded or enlarged. Well done.

This is my second visit to your blog as I remembered that we were both writing about genealogy and family history. I forgot to follow you before. Fixed that and have added you to my AtoZ Blog Roll. I don't want to miss any of your posts.
Sue CollectInTexasGal
AtoZ LoneStar Quilting Bee