Now available: My new book, Witnesses of Hope, Faith, Love and Healing, at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle editions.

Share your memories of Park Central Square, Springfield, Missouri, for my new book. Details.

My First High School Class Reunion, Part 2 of 3: Things Not Quite Remembered

My 1957 high school class reunion in 2014
Sandra Hilton Bucksath and Wayne O’Neal, organizers of my fifty-seventh high school class reunion, were at the dinner site in Marshall, Missouri, when my wife Eryleene and I arrived the morning of the reunion. I hugged Sandra and shook hands with Wayne.

After introductions and chitchat, I saw on the sign-in table a framed list of names of deceased classmates. My eyes moistened as I read the names—not only because the individuals were gone, but because I was unable to put faces to some of the names.
 

Creative nonfiction
At the gathering that night, I recognized only a few classmates, since I hadn’t seen them in nearly six decades. I spotted Dick Bueker, whose father was superintendent of schools when we were students. Marshall High School was renamed Bueker Middle School in 1976, when a new high school opened west of town adjacent to rerouted U.S. Route 65.

“Wayne Groner,” I said, as I touched Dick’s arm. He gave a disbelieving look.

“You are not.”

“Yes, I am.”

“You are not. You’re a ghost.”

I didn’t have a ghost-comeback line, so I launched into one of my favorite stories. “When we were kids, we played in the basement of Sandra Hilton’s house. You, Sandra, Carol Nichols, and I rummaged through boxes and hangers of grown-up clothes and put on mystery plays. We made up stories and took turns being victims and villains. One of our props was an old bedroom dresser with an attached mirror.”

A flat look. “Sandra said you mentioned that. I don’t remember.”

Neither had Sandra when I told her the story that morning.

Another story opportunity came when I interrupted a group that included Janice Esser Reinhart. After handshakes and introductions, I said confidently to Janice: “Your father owned a jewelry store. Each year he gave a high school senior a new watch for citizenship and I received one.”

Janice smiled politely. “A lot of people thought that was my father’s jewelry store, but it was my uncle’s. My father owned several liquor stores in and around Marshall.”

“I did not know that,” I said, in a feeble attempt to imitate Johnny Carson. 

The artist 
Among those at our dinner table were Gay Griffitt Rooks and her husband, Wayne. I told them Eryleene and I spent several hours earlier in the day visiting places of my childhood, including my first school, Benton Elementary. My family lived two blocks away, near the corner of Benton and Jackson. I tried to spot the house for Eryleene but couldn’t identify it.

“I know exactly which one,” Wayne said. “Five eighty-five South Jackson, second house from the corner. Brothers Donnie and Ronnie Wade lived several houses away on the other corner.” Donnie was a classmate at Benton school.

“How could you possibly know my house?” I asked.

“My family moved in after yours.”

“What makes you think I lived there?”

“You drew pictures all over the walls of your room.”

I was still incredulous of his magical feat. “What kind of pictures, and how do you know I drew them?”

“Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, mostly. You signed your name.”

That I was dumbfounded is an understatement. I had no remembrance of the drawings. Evidently, since it was a cheap rental, my parents had no contrition that I marked on the walls.

An alias, a debater, and a girlfriend
A couple of tables from ours sat a classmate I recognized. I didn’t remember his name and didn’t speak to him before he left. After dinner, I went to his table and met Ken Randolph, also a classmate.

“Who was the guy who left?”

“Don Gibson,” Ken said. “He preferred the name Don Taylor. He wanted to write western novels using the name Taylor.” Ah, then I remembered. He wore western clothes to school and sometimes a yellow scarf around his neck. For his senior picture, he wore a Kentucky Colonel black bow tie. I don't know whether he became a writer.

Throughout the evening I looked for Hal Lowenstein. “He sent in a reservation, but it looks like he didn’t make it,” Sandra Hilton told me. Hal and I were high school debate partners and when we were younger played in his house across from the school.

As things wrapped up, I recognized Carol Clark Evan, my first girlfriend. We hugged and I introduced Eryleene. I didn’t date Carol until after Irv Williams did; he was at the reunion, his first time back. Small talk with Carol didn't reveal anything embarrassing about our relationship, which was quite ordinary and innocent. After dinner, Eryleene wanted to know more. Predictable. I didn’t share much, except Carol was a knockout in a swimsuit.

Coming up in Part 3: A poem by Ben Swinger, class of 1957.

What were surprises at your high school class reunion after many years? Leave your comments below, especially if you attended your twenty-fifth reunion or later.

Photo: Tammy Kerksiek, Lee's Studio, Marshall, Missouri

My First High School Class Reunion, Part 1 of 3: Procrastination

Me, at today's Marshall Municipal Swimming Pool
I attended my first high school class reunion in 2014. So, what's the big deal? I graduated in 1957. You can do the math to figure how old I am.

In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated for a second term. I didn’t follow politics. The voting age was twenty-one and I wouldn’t be eligible for another three years. Gasoline was twenty-four cents a gallon, a first-class postage stamp was three cents, and a new car was around $2,000. The Bridge on the River Kwai received an Academy Award for best movie. Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis Presley, Paul Anka, and Buddy Holly were among my favorite music stars. Television shows I liked included You Bet Your Life, Tales of Wells Fargo, and The Danny Thomas Show.

Why go back now?
My school was Marshall High School in Marshall, Missouri, where I was born and raised. Can’t say precisely why I waited fifty-seven years to attend a class reunion. Maybe I felt my life was too ordinary to share, that I wouldn’t appear as successful as the other graduates, or my physical condition and clothing would not rise to a standard I imagined of my classmates. Whatever my thinking, I didn’t put the invitations onto my to-do lists.

Several things motivated me to attend the 2014 reunion. One was the invitation. “This will be our last reunion,” wrote Sandra Hilton Bucksath, one of the organizers. “So, please make your best effort to attend. We want to get together one more time to enjoy each other’s company.” What could I lose? My classmates were likely to be as overweight and gray-haired as I was, if they had hair and I don’t have much.

I was intrigued by the location of the reunion dinner, the Martin Conference Center at the Nicholas-Beazley Aviation Museum at Marshall Municipal Airport. Marshall Flying School was established at the airport in 1925 and became the largest civilian flight school in the world. My father was a civilian pilot. I vaguely recall he flew in and out of the Marshall airport. Perhaps the museum had a record of his flight certificate, although I don’t know whether he received his license in Marshall.

My wife made me do it 
Finally, and probably the biggest motivator, my wife Eryleene embarrassed me into attending. “You have to go,” she said. “You won’t forgive yourself if you don’t. You’ve told me stories about your classmates and you should see them again.” Then she played the you-may-never-have-another-chance-to-go-home card. “Your mother and her parents are buried in Marshall and this could be the last time you visit their graves.” Eryleene had been to Marshall a few times in our marriage as we visited family and for the funeral of my mother and grandmother.

“Visiting the graves would be good. And I could show you places of my childhood memories." I knew some of those memory places might not be there.

“And we can take pictures,” she replied.

Locations flashed through my brain: elementary schools I attended, houses I lived in, places I worked, the church I attended.

Thumbin' to the swimmin' pool
One place that came to mind was the municipal swimming pool where my younger brother Gene and I had season passes just about every summer. “Cheap entertainment,” our mother often said. It was natural and common for us and our friends to hitch rides to the pool with strangers. We stood at the corner of Odell and Yerby, a residential area approximately one and one-half miles west of the pool, carrying swim trunks wrapped in towels. We held out our thumbs to passing cars; sometimes we waived the wrapped trunks. It didn’t take long before we had a ride. After swimming, we asked drivers leaving the pool parking lot if they were going to Odell and Yerby, and again we quickly got a ride. It wasn’t only the boys; girls hitched rides, too.

“Totally crazy,” Eryleene sometimes said when she heard me tell that story. “Smart parents don’t let their children do that today.”

Back in 1957, though, in a small rural town where the biggest crimes were sneaking into a movie theater or running stop signs—Marshall had no traffic lights—we felt safe hitching rides from a street corner.

Coming up in Part 2: Conversations at the reunion dinner.

Photo: Eryleene Groner

Write Memoirs from Your Soul: Nan Merrick Phifer

Memoirs of the Soul cover
Memoirs of the Soul: A Writing Guide
Revised and Expanded Edition
Nan Merrick Phifer
Ingot Press, 2011
264 pages, with index, exercises, and suggested readings

Textbook author and workshop presenter Nan Merrick Phifer goes beyond standard memoir-writing guidelines and directs readers to a “voyage of the soul.” Public records, photographs, certificates, and other documents are physical evidence of your existence, she writes, but unless you reveal your feelings and thoughts, “few people will ever truly know you.”

Although she covers the basics of writing prompts, rough drafts, revising, negative criticism, procrastination, and so on, she goes much deeper, taking you into the world of yourself and showing how to capture your “love, grief, satisfaction, longing, … values, motives, beliefs, and hopes.” In other words, your soul.

Phifer's clear and direct writing, inspiring exercises, and nourishing testimonies from workshop participants will strengthen your leap of faith, guide your writing adventure, and give your memoir an emotional boost.

Call up your emotions
Phifer suggests you do not begin chronologically, although you may end up there. She recommends listing people who have been important to you, places of significant events in your life, things you would be sorry to lose, and your important experiences. Start by replacing the word important with intense and list times:
  • Your heart pounded.
  • Your stomach tightened.
  • Your skin tingled.
  • You held your breath.
  • You wept with joy, grief, or sympathy.
  • You want to relive.
  • You want to erase.
Smells, lights, sounds, and tastes often can stimulate memories, she writes.

Listening to your draft will help you find weak and strong points. She suggests you read your draft aloud or ask a friend to read it to you.

She divides the book into four parts. Part I, Beginnings, covers how to start and takes you through childhood and adolescence. Part II, Rising Action, helps you write about events that shaped your life including religion, struggles, marriage, birth, and death. Part III, Climaxes and Revelations, deals with love as a gift, dreams and visions, and spiritual well-being. Part IV, The Rewards, is for reflection, review, rewriting.

Make a book
Phifer distinguishes between memoirs and autobiographies. Memoirs focus on hours and minutes when you are most alive, moments of joy or crisis that define you, while autobiographies are broad overviews.

“You may be satisfied to have explored your inner life by means of writing and feel no inclination to leave a written record.” If you want to produce a book from your writing experiences, Phifer takes you through a simplified process. Parts of your book include:
  • Title page
  • Introduction
  • Author photograph
  • Chapters
  • Conclusion
  • Date
She shows how to make deletions and changes, replace general nouns with specific nouns, change passive voice to active voice, replace verbs of “being,” rearrange sections of writing, and proofread for a polished finish. A copy shop or printer can handle actual production of your book.

Pfifer states many writers find writing is more fulfilling than producing a book. “The writing itself may have been a spiritual experience,” not necessarily religious, but “the essential and activating principle at the center of your being, your intangible essence.”

How do you find your spiritual center and write about it? Have you read a good book that helped you and want to review it here? See Guidelines for Guest Posts and  Book Reviews.

Nan Phifer taught at secondary and college levels. She was a National Teaching Fellow under Title III of the Higher Education Act, and granted a Certificate of Award in Recognition of Distinguished Achievement in Adult Basic Education Programs. Now retired from college teaching, she presents workshops to writers' groups, libraries, religious and contemplative organizations, continuing education programs, and retreat and renewal organizations. She may be reached at www.memoirworkshops.com.

Photo courtesy www.memoirworkshops.com

Write Your Life Story: Three Books You Never Knew You Needed

Yes, this is another one of those posts that recommends books to help you write your memoir, biography, or family history.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “I don't need another how-to book. Aren’t there gazillions of those and aren’t they all alike?”

 Yes and almost yes.

“Well then there now—thank you very much George Gobel—what makes your list so blasted different?”

I’ll respond with what my list is not. It is not a list of books on how to write your life story.

“So you fooled me with your headline when you said it was about writing my life story?”

About writing your life story, not how-to.

“Okay, I’ll stay with you a little longer. This better be good.”

Give your words life
Good is a good start. It is an adjective, as in “a good product: fine, superior,” and thirty-five other synonyms listed in the first entry of the word in the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, Third Edition (Oxford University Press, 2012). I say the first entry, because the Writer’s Thesaurus has eighteen entries for the word good as an adjective, two as a noun, and four as phrases. Each entry has dozens of synonyms, with an antonym or two thrown in, for a total of more than 500 (I counted them) synonyms and antonyms.

At a hefty 1,050 pages, this book has more than 15,000 main entries, 300,000 synonyms, and 10,000 antonyms. Compiler Christine A. Lindberg says subtle differences can guide you to the best alternative. Complementing the entries are word notes throughout by more than 200 contributing authors.

Give your characters expression
Your life story has characters who enter and exit, speak and stay silent; they act and react, and so do you as the storyteller. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012) guides you through thousands of verbal and nonverbal emotions. Included are physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, expressed and suppressed feelings.

Authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi say their book will help you brainstorm new ideas about emotions and make your writing fresh and engaging. Although written for novelists, the book is exceptional (opposite of normal and usual) for writing your life story.

Give yourself the look of a professional
Computers have made it too easy to check spelling and grammar. A couple of clicks of your computer’s mouse and all the mistakes are underscored in red and with suggested corrections. Yeah, sure. It is up to you, or someone you hire, to proofread and edit your manuscript. Whether you are writing your life story for family and friends or to be published for all the world, you do not want to appear ignorant of grammar and punctuation.

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, Eleventh Edition (Jossey-Bass, 2014) is an easy-to-use guide that will give you the skills and knowledge you need to look like you know what you are doing. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, who vs. whom, periods, commas, hyphens, dashes, capitalization, and writing numbers are just a few of the dozens of topics. The book is based on the work of Jane Straus (1954-2011), educator, best-selling author, and founder of GrammarBook.com.

“I’m convinced. Now what?”
Buy these books, dog-ear them, mark all over them, and recommend them. You will treasure them for a lifetime.

Tell us the best books on writing your life story you recommend and how they helped you.

Images courtesy Amazon.com.

Self-publish Your Memoir on a Shoestring

Sharon Lippincott
Self-publishing of memoirs has exploded in recent years and continues to grow rapidly. It is now easier than ever to self-publish, with hundreds of online sites offering a dizzying array of packages at greatly varying rates. Which should you choose for the best value of your needs and goals? On the other hand, you could take your completed manuscript to your local printer and have it run off a few copies for family and friends.

Sharon Lippincott and Boyd Lemon are experts at self-publishing memoirs and teaching others how to do it. They came together with Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, for a roundtable discussion that originally aired on the web April 3, 2014. Dr. Myers gave me permission to link to the discussion for this post.
Boyd Lemon

The discussion covers how to keep the cost of publishing low, what you can do yourself and when to get help, where to find help, trading services, working with editors, and much more.

Sharon is a lifewriting coach, teacher, and author of six nonfiction books, including The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing and The Albuquerque Years. Find her online at http://sharonlippincott.com/.

Boyd is a retired nationally known attorney and author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction, including Retirement: A Memoir and Guide, and Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages. Find him online at http://boydlemon-writer.com/.

Here is the link to the recorded discussion: http://www.namw.org/public-roundtable-recordings/.

Tell us your experiences with self-publishing your memoir, or leave your questions.

Photos courtesy Sharon Lippincott and Boyd Lemon.

http://heartandcraft.blogspot.com

  • What skills you can learn to keep the cost of publishing down. Styles, formatting tools, and more.
  • How to know what you can safely do yourself and when to get help–resources to learn about.
  • How and where to find help when you need it. Facebook groups, Forums, Joel Friedlander, YouTube, Google, friends, NAMW events. Smashwords Style Guide, Kindle formatting guide. Smashwords conversion list …
  • High quality alternatives to professional services. Trading services with friends, both writers and other. Use lots of beta readers…
  • How to make the best use of limited funds. Collaboration, low budget cover people, do your own layout,  low budget editors— check references!
  • - See more at: http://www.namw.org/2014/03/self-publish-your-book-on-a-shoestring-free-roundtable-discussion/#sthash.DPuGVGLl.dpuf

    Not for Idiots: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Memoir

    Book Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Memoir
    Victoria Costello
    Alpha Books/Penguin Group, 2011
    Softcover, 286 pages, with appendices and index


    The number of people writing memoirs is growing, with some memoirs becoming bestsellers. Whether you want to write your memoir for profit or fun, to find healing, or to leave a family legacy, Victoria Costello's complete, clear, and compelling how-to book is for you.

    Costello is an Emmy-winning author of six nonfiction books including her memoir and three other Complete Idiot’s Guide titles. In this book, she walks you step-by-step through the memoir-writing process, from uncovering your reasons for writing to becoming published. What to put into your memoir and what to leave out—covered. Writing the truth without hurting people—covered. Using fiction techniques of plot, character, dialogue, and conflict to make your memoir a page turner—covered.

    How the book is organized
    The book has four parts. In Part One, Writing Your Life, Costello recommends reading memoirs to become acquainted with how others have done it. Appendix B lists twenty-two memoirs to get you started. She gives common reasons for writing memoirs, including self-understanding, memorializing a relationship, overcoming adversity, and leaving a legacy for your children and grandchildren—even great-grandchildren you may not meet.

    Part Two, The Ingredients of Memoir, provides a recipe for writing that includes how to determine point of view of your characters, making characters believable, dialogue, plot and structure, and revising your pages. Since your memoir is about you, you likely will use a first-person point of view, represented by the word I. Closely related to point of view is voice. “Voice in memoir is the real you,” Costello writes. “It’s how you sound when you get together with your oldest friend over coffee and gossip or have a heart-to-heart talk.”

    Part Three, The Bigger Picture: Theme and Genre, covers dealing with tragedy, romance, illness, travel and adventure, and business memoir. Theme means “you fulfilled a promise made on page one: that you would make a necessary change in your life (story)—and then faithfully tell them all about it.”

    Part Four, Getting Read, is about turning journal writing into memoir, writing about family, writing about faith, and getting published

    Appendix A lists websites, organizations, and how-to books on writing memoir; Appendix B is a reading list of memoirs; and Appendix C is a permission form Costello suggests for persons you interview for your memoir. (More important than permission is to avoid harming a person’s reputation—libeling them—by what you write.) 

    How she keeps you on track
    At first glance, you may think the nearly 300-page book has too many rules to follow. However, sprinkled throughout are easy-to-understand definitions of key writing terms, quick prompts for you to practice writing, inspirational quotes from published memoirists, and potholes to avoid. I especially like her Five Golden Rules of Good Writing:
    1. Say it simply.
    2. Mix up your sentences. Follow long with short, and vice versa.
    3. Don’t start every sentence with I.
    4. Details are always better than generalities.
    5. Begin every scene in the middle, not when and where the action started.
    Victoria Costello is a science journalist, ghostwriter of memoirs, public speaker, and workshop presenter on memoir writing and coping with family mental health challenges. Visit www.victoriacostello.com and www.memoirmidwife.com.

    What book on writing memoir have you found most helpful? To write a book review for this blog go to Guidelines for Guest Posts and Book Reviews.
     

    Cultural and Literary Events for May 2014

    Haitian Heritage Month Poster
    Lots of ethnic and family heritage to write about this month.

    Check with your library, college, government agencies, or community groups for activities in your area.

    Listings are for the United States unless noted.

    Asian Pacific-American History Month
    Haitian Heritage Month
    Jewish-American Heritage Month
    National Family History Month,
       Australasian
    Prepare Tomorrow's Parents Month,
       May 11-June 15
    Victorious Woman Month International

    Other Observances in May
    Allergy/Asthma Awareness Month
    Arthritis Awareness Month
    Awareness of Medical Orphans Month
    Barbecue Month
    Better Hearing and Speech Month
    Bike Month
    Civility Awareness Month International
    Fibromyalgia Education and Awareness Month
    Foster Care Month
    Gardening for Wildlife Month
    Get Caught Reading Month
    Gifts from the Garden Month
    Good Car-Keeping Month
    Hamburger Month
    Heal the Children Month
    Healthy Vision Month
    Hepatitis Awareness Month
    Huntington's Disease Awareness Month
    Inventor's Month
    Latino Books Month
    Meditation Month
    Mediterranean Diet Month
    Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month  
    Mental Health Month
    Military Appreciation Month
    Motorcycle Safety Month
    Moving Month
    Older Americans Month
    Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month
    Photo Month
    Physical Fitness and Sports Month
    Prader-Willi Syndrome Awareness Month 
    Preservation Month
    REACT Month
    Salad Month
    Salsa Month
    Smile Month
    Strike Out Strokes Month
    Stroke Awareness Month
    Sweet Vidalia Onion Month
    Teen CEO Month
    Tennis Month
    Ultraviolet Awareness Month
    Vinegar Month
    Women's Health Care Month
    Young Achievers/Leaders of Tomorrow Month

    What is going on in your area this month? 

    Some listings courtesy Chase's Calendar of Events. Poster courtesy Haitian Heritage Museum.