Recently a friend gave me a book of good intentions: Grandmother Remembers: A Written Heirloom for my Grandchild.
I call it a book of good intentions because few people ever fill them out. This one is as pristine as it was when it was published in 1983. She’s moving and it was going to Goodwill if I didn’t take it.
“Take it,” she insisted. “You’re a new grandma now.”
True. Violet Rae Wilson was born Sept. 18, I, and one of her grandmother (me) still attends Herman’s Hermits concerts because she still thinks she’s 14.
I thumbed through the pages. There’s the family tree and pages about my own family, the day I was born, my days as a young girl, my engagement, wedding and my memories of Violet’s daddy, our son Lantz.
I should fill out the thing right now, except I, like the previous owner and giver/receiver, am not keen on exposition. That sounds odd coming from one who has a master’s degree in fiction.
OK, I should get started. Grandmother Remembers is full of writing prompts. I’m to list my schools, where my family lived, pets we had…but there are other prompts, too. My Parents Were Strict About… At home I was expected to….
How truthful should I be? This book will likely be passed down to Violet’s children whom I may never know. “As a Girl My favorite Song was…” Of course they would bring that up! How do you pick just one? What if you change your mind later? What if I say “Albatross” by Fleetwood Mac? Or “A Summer Song” by Chad & Jeremy and forget to mention “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys or “Knights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues? What will those songs tell someone fifty years from now? And what of some other favorites such as “Cara Mia” by Jay and the Americans or “There’s a Kind of Hush” by Herman’s Hermits or “Ashokan Farewell” by whoever recorded it for the Civil War miniseries? Or “Girl’s Just Wanta Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper or “I Only Want to Be with You” by Dusty Springfield? Or “Faithful One” by Cliff Richard? I have such a crowded, disjointed list.
There are more open-ended questions, such as “My Teenage Years Were….” What kind of question is that? Who hasn’t experienced some dopey years when they were a teenager?
I’m invited to share memories of my engagement. “When I Told My Parents They. …” I don’t remember what they said after “Oh Lord.”
Our most memorable wedding gift was… Should I write about the electric hot dog cooker that we traded for store credit?
Or how about “How the World Has Changed Since I was a Girl.” How many pages are there? The last line on that page is “I think a woman president would be….” I remind myself that this book was published 33 years ago.
And there’s this “Today My Favorite” section. What if I say my favorite dessert is still coconut cream pie with toasted coconut flakes? Or what if I choose “There’s a Kind of Hush” as my favorite song? Violet knows it already. She attended a Herman’s Hermits concert in Orange County in utero this summer, so she’s tied to the Sixties by default. Come to think of it, we’re all tied to the past by default.
Page 59 is reserved for “Treasures I Have Saved for You.” How about a whole house full of stuff her parents won’t want…china, silver, crystal, linens? It’s high-maintenance stuff from my bridal registry to be displayed in a china cabinet. And then there are pictures of Victorian relatives, four-drawer cabinet of family records. Will Violet really want the entire list?
Page 55 has the heading “The Future” with plenty of blanks for me to fill in my wish list. I’m still 14 in many ways, and all said, that’s what I hope for Violet. That she won’t grow “old.” She will graduate from high school in 2034. She will be my age now in 2078. Why does that frighten me?
The problem with Grandmother Remembers is that this grandparent remembers too much stuff. Editing is hard work. Don’t they know that writing memoir is one of the toughest things to do? Our lives are so much more than a few sentences about favorites and names and dates. So I set the book aside. I’ll get to it one of these days.