I Give Up, What's a Rotary Dial Telephone?

Rotary dial telephone, circa 1954
My Dagnabbit Contest is over and winners were notified. Thanks to everyone who entered. Please continue to leave your comments regarding missed memories.

Time magazine recently published "Top 10 Things Today’s Kids Will Never Experience". That sent me thinking.

When I was growing up in Marshall, Missouri my grandmother and her lifelong friend talked every day using an operator-assisted telephone. A real person connected them. I was with my grandmother in the early 1950s just after her new rotary dial phone was installed. The first person she dialed was her friend. Afterwards, my grandmother said, “If I hadn’t gotten her I never would have used that thing again.”

A bathtub for your thoughts
Author, poet, and photographer Marilyn Smith volunteers to guide elementary school children through historic Wommack Mill, the oldest building in Fair Grove, Missouri. Corn and oats were ground into animal feed, grain flour, and cornmeal at the mill from 1883-1969.

On one tour, a girl pointed to an old-fashioned metal bathtub with handles on the ends hanging on a wall and asked, “What is that?”

"I explained how water was drawn from a well and heated on a stove and that all the family members took a bath in the same water, often on Saturday night," Marilyn said.

"But what if someone went, you know?" the girl said.

"I told her they continued taking their baths. Her facial expression revealed she felt the whole situation was yucky.”

Consider these
My grandparents grew up when horse-drawn buggies were dominant and reliable transportation. My parents grew up with automobiles. My brothers and I grew up with airplanes. My children grew up with space travel. My grandchildren are growing up with virtual travel via handheld electronic devices.

In ninth grade I was the only boy in my typewriting class.

When I met my wife-to-be she was a long-distance telephone operator who talked with callers. (Imagine that.)

I learned to drive in a 1954 Chevrolet with three-speed manual transmission. The shift lever was on the steering column.

As a youngster I sat with my grandparents in their car on the public square. We watched people walk by as we ate Dairy Queen soft serve. (Now that’s entertainment.)

My first experience with color television was a black-and-white fitted with a glass cover that had one row each of red, yellow, and blue tinting.

We had an icebox in our kitchen when I was growing up. Mother put a card with a large black 5 or 10 printed on it outside the kitchen door so the delivery man knew how many pounds of ice to leave.

And these
In 2009, Wired.com listed "100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About" in the areas of audio-visual entertainment, computers and video gaming, the Internet, and "everything else".

Since 1998, Beloit College has issued an annual Mindset List to show a view of the world from the adolescent consciousness. College officials Tom McBride and Ron Nief wrote a book, The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messages, covering the last 130 years.

Indiana’s Department of Education has made teaching cursive optional and encourages schools to focus on keyboarding (typewriting to us old fogies).

Controversy is ongoing whether elementary school children should learn multiplication tables (I learned ‘em, dagnabbit) or use calculators.

My grandchildren will never know the simplicity of a manual typewriter and the magic of carbon paper, the pleasure of owning a collection of 45-rpm records and the joy of playing them, or the enduring object lessons and zaniness of Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob, and Clarabell the Clown.

Photo courtesy ProhibitOnions.

What will your children or grandchildren never experience? 

Win a free book. Dorsey Levell and I will give an autographed copy of our Dumb Luck or Divine Guidance to the first five persons who correctly identify the actor who often used dagnabbit in his movie roles. Email your answer to waynegroner@yourmemoriesyourbook.com. I will contact the winners for their postal addresses and permission to post their names on my blog.

Linda K. Thomas: Inspiration and Celebration with Spiritual Memoirs

Linda K.Thomas
Guest article by Linda K. Thomas

About ten years ago, I had a rhema moment while reading Deuteronomy chapter four. Priscilla Shirer describes a rhema moment as an instant when “a word in Scripture zings you” and you know God is speaking to you. It’s a flash of “Aha!”

Deuteronomy 4:9 tells us to remember what we’ve seen God do for us and to tell our children and grandchildren. I read the verse many times before, but that day I had a rhema moment. The verse took on new meaning and urgency. I knew I had to do something about it.

At the time I wasn’t even sure what a memoir was, but soon discovered it is a perfect format for telling kids and grandkids what God has done. A couple of years later I started teaching memoir classes, first in Washington State, and now in Missouri.

Inspiration and celebration
In my classes and my blog, I seek to inspire memoir writers to celebrate God’s goodness, faithfulness, holiness, and splendor—and even His sense of humor. The theme of my blog, Spiritual Memoirs 101, is Deuteronomy 4:9.

When people sign up for my memoir classes, I often hear, “A memoir class! Terrific! I love journaling!” Yes, sometimes people confuse writing a memoir with journaling, or with writing autobiography, so let’s look at them.

Your journal is private, but you write a memoir for others to read.

An autobiography documents your entire life, starting with your birth, but memoir focuses on a segment of your life—a specific theme or time period—which you explore in depth.

In other words, a person can write a memoir based on a theme: coaching high school tennis, for example, or working as a bush pilot in Alaska. My memoir, Grandma’s Letters from Africa, covers my first four years in Africa.

God in your memoir
Pondering, examining, unraveling, musing, and reflecting are necessary ingredients in memoir. In the writing process, you examine what God was doing as you see it now, in retrospect. You’ll look for deeper lessons God had for you in the events of your life.
  • Looking back, what did you learn about yourself?
  • What did you learn about God?
  • Do you now have a better understanding of God’s purpose for your life?
  • How did the experience change your life? What new person did you become?
  • How did the experience strengthen your faith for future challenges?

May God help us remember all we’ve seen Him do for us, and with us—and even in spite of us.

May He give us a longing to write those stories for our children, grandchildren, and “spiritual” children as well—precious people God brought into our lives whether we share DNA or not.

Your stories are part of God’s stories and God’s stories are part of your stories. People need to hear those stories. Believe it!

Linda Thomas is a former Teaching Leader with Bible Study Fellowship International. She and her husband, Dave, worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators for three years in South America and eight years in Africa. She blogs about her first four years in Africa at Grandma’s Letters from Africa

Photo courtesy Linda Thomas.

How has God influenced your writing?

As Ed Koch Would Say, "How am I doing?"

Ed Koch
The three-term mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, walked the streets asking taxi drivers, passersby, and shop owners, “How am I doing?” He genuinely wanted to hear suggestions for improving his work.

That’s my question for you today regarding this blog. How am I doing? You can help make this a better blog by letting me know what kind of information you are looking for when you visit here. This blog works best when your purposes and my purposes match.

My purposes are to provide tools to help you write your memoir, life story, or family history and to make available my services for those who want to hire a personal historian. I do that by:
  • Trying to inspire and educate.
  • Presenting established and new techniques.
  • Linking to a variety of professional resources.
  • Pointing out what others are doing.
  • Identifying opportunities for new thinking, such as National Family History Month and the Men’s Story Project.  
  • Reviewing books of top writers in the fields of memoir, life story writing, family history, and writing in general.
  • Sharing well-written stories that illustrate good storytelling methods.
  • Posting how-to-do-it articles from the experts.

How am I doing? I’m not looking for praise. I’m genuinely looking for your suggestions on ways to improve my blog so it works for you. What would you like to see here? What kinds of information are best for your purposes?

Please leave your comments.

Thanks a million!

Photo: Ed Koch sports a sailor's cap at the commissioning of the USS Lake Champlain. Courtesy Patrick J. Cashin, U.S. Navy.

Lee Gutkind: ABCs of Creative Nonfiction

Lee Gutkind
Book Review: Keep it Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction
Edited by Lee Gutkind
W.W. Norton & Company, 2008
Hardcover, 167 pages


This book is on my reading guide at Amazon.com.

Although Lee Gutkind began using the term “creative nonfiction” in the 1970s, he doesn’t know precisely when it became an official part of the language of writing. His best estimate is 1983, when the National Endowment for the Arts was searching for a name for a new category of its creative writing fellowships.

Basically, the term means using “literary craft in presenting nonfiction—that is, factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid manner.” Gutkind cites some examples of creative nonfiction, though not initially called that, which have been around for many years: Down and Out in Paris and London (George Orwell), Notes of a Native Son (James Baldwin), Death in the Afternoon (Ernest Hemingway), and The Right Stuff (Tom Wolfe). These writers cover their topics as journalism, memoir, and information sharing, all perfectly acceptable forms of creative nonfiction.

Creative nonfiction defined
While the meaning of the term is generally acknowledged and accepted by writers, editors, and publishers—within whom are individual interpretations—controversy flares up from time to time over the misuse of creative nonfiction.  Fictionalization sometimes takes a back seat to truth and accuracy, Gutkind says, as in the scandalous  A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey. In the end, Gutkind says, creative nonfiction’s greatest asset is its “flexibility and freedom while adhering to the basic tenets of reportage.”

Gutkind says there are two major parts to the genre: Writing, which is the creative and fun part, and crafting, which includes “scene, dialogue, intimate detail, and other essentials.” Whether a simple beginning taken chronologically to a satisfying ending, or starting in the middle of events to draw readers in with suspense, focused themes and good storytelling work every time.

A compilation of entries
The book is a compilation from twenty writers and presented as forty-one brief entries, “the combined voices and wisdom of the writers and editors,” Gutkind says. Most of the entries are less than three pages in length, none is credited to a specific writer, and some are the work of several writers. A brief profile of each contributor is at the end of the book. Topics are not organized by a step-one, step-two, step-three approach, but rather in alphabetical order by their titles. Thus, the first topic is “Acknowledgement of Sources,” in the middle are “Narrative Impulse” and “Quotation Marks,” and the last topic is “Writers’ Responsibility to Subjects.”

Two entries are on memoirs, “The Memoir Craze,” and “The Roots of Memoir.” From the contributors: “When you look at our tendency these days to interface with technology rather than one another, perhaps the surprise is not that memoirs are flourishing but that anyone questions the trends.” And, while memoir and autobiography have similarities, there are differences. “The memoir tends to reflect a life organized by theme—drug addiction, for example, or illness—while autobiography is typically a linear catchall, a succession of facts plodding from birth onward.”

Lee Gutkind is a novelist, teacher of creative nonfiction, and workshop presenter. He is founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction, the first literary magazine dedicated exclusively to nonfiction. The magazine actively seeks submissions year-round. Submission guidelines.

Photo courtesy Lee Gutkind.

What has been your biggest challenge in writing creative nonfiction? Have you used creative nonfiction in writing your memoir? If so, how? What examples of creative nonfiction have you enjoyed most?