Friday, October 10, 2003

#19 The writing assignment

Julian Anderson has written a novel (Empire under glass. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1996) about an octogenarian who escapes from a retirement home. While Julian is shopping her second novel and raising her family, she leads a class in writing family memoirs and personal recollections at our public library for a group, middle aged and older, who are escaping into their past.

This week she asked us to write our names at the bottom of a page with all the places we had lived. Then above that, our parents and all the towns where they had lived; above that where our grandparents had lived; and finally, if we knew, where our great grandparents had lived.

Although I’ve lived in the same community since I was 28, I was able to list eight, possibly nine if our summer home counts. Three for each of my parents, and two or three for the grandparents, and one or two for the great grandparents. There is actually an old post card on the internet of the rural area where my father and grandparents lived.

“What or where do you call home?” she asked. We learned that once parents are gone, most of us stopped referring to that community as “home.” One woman was multi-lingual and said her sense of “home” was tied into her first language, German, although she had never lived there and didn’t visit Germany until her adulthood. A number in the group remembered that their parents or grandparents refused to speak their native language in front of the children.

Our assignment: select one of the names on our list and write down eight or ten questions we’d like to know about her or him. So I’ve selected Nancy from Ohio and Rachel from Tennessee, a great grandmother and a great great grandmother, and that will be my next blog.

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