|Posted by Sue Swinger-Ellbogen on March 30, 2016 at 10:05 AM|
Many people express an interest in writing family memoirs, but they do not know how to get started. There are many writing classes available, but my advice is very simple: just start writing the first memory you have of your childhood. Write a series of short stories on each memory that pops into your mind. Don't worry about the chronological order; just let your creativity flow making sure to date the stories with the date you create them--not the date you think they occurred. The timeline will come out naturally in your story.
At some point you will have a series of short stories that you can compile to create a book of memoirs, if desired. In the meantime, you have some nice short stories that chronicle your life and allow you to have a history for your children. I call it Creative NonFiction because the stories will be true with some creativity added to fill in the gaps.
For more tips and tools for writing memoirs, see topic Writing Memoirs in list above.
Below are a series of short stories that I have created from my family memories.
The Old Pickup Truck
Grandpa Hodges, my Mom’s father, had an ancient black Chevy pickup truck with standard shift that he crept around town in when no one was watching. Grandpa Hodges was retired ever since I could remember and he liked to drink and chew tobacco a little. Granny Hodges would fuss at Grandpa but he would just smile and ignore her.
He taught my sister Margaret to drive when she was fourteen. Brenda and Sonnie and I watched intently from the wraparound porch of the big white house on Gladys Street in Sikeston, Missouri where my grandparents lived for a while. Margaret ground those gears and squawked the tires as she let out on the clutch too quickly. Grandpa had the patience of Job and finally had Margaret driving down the alley behind the house.
We would run back and forth to report on the progress to Uncle Preston who lived with them giggling as we thought we were keeping everything a secret from Granny. Sonnie was itching to try his hand at driving but Grandpa said he was too young. Sonnie was four years younger than Margaret and was envious of her good luck.
It was not long before Daddy would let Margaret drive his old red Ford pickup to the cotton fields. She would take all of us kids along with a gallon of water where she could babysit us while picking cotton. Brenda and I would run down the cotton row and pick bolls of cotton and pile it up in the middle of the row for Sonnie and Margaret to put in their cotton sack when they caught up. We would run ahead of them and pick a few more bolls before we would get side-tracked by a rabbit or bird that flew over. Soon we would be running across the field getting in the way of the other field hands.
Margaret would let us run and play for a while before she would yell for us to get back on the row and pick cotton. She used to scare us by telling us that the Biscuit Eater would get us. We were terrified of the Biscuit Eater—we never dreamed it was a tall tale. Before you knew it the sun was dropping low in the sky and it was time to all of us to load up in that old red pickup and head for home.
By Sue Swinger-Ellbogen
My Sister and Me
Created August 5, 2013
Dedicated to Virgin and Gertrude Hodges
I never had a special place in the family; I wasn’t the oldest or the youngest. I was a girl and not a boy. Nothing special ever came of being a girl. I was born into a big family and had a young mother although I did not realize that at the time. My dad was much older than my mom and I did realize that. He was 37 when I was born so was well into his 40’s or even 50 by the time I had an understanding of age. He seemed really old to me.
Dad was a farmer; a sharecropper, to be exact. That means he farmed land owned by someone else and gave them a percentage of the profits. He farmed for over 35 years and retired in 1948. Dad farmed during a time when land was being cleared of trees and bushes. Teams of mules and equipment were used to clear the land. We moved to town at Sikeston, Missouri to live after he retired.
Every one of us kids plus my first child were born in a house on Brown Spur Road near Sikeston, MO. My parents raised four children from my Dad’s first wife. Dad married Mary Irene Arnold who gave birth to four children before dying in 1910. Then Dad married Mary Irene’s sister named Minnie who had one child and both died in childbirth in 1912. Then Dad married the third sister named Emma, my Mom, who was fifteen years old. Together they had ten children.
When Mom married Dad her nieces and nephews were ages four to eight years old; the oldest was only seven years younger than Mom. Raising four stepchildren must have seemed like a big job to a young girl even though girls did get married at a very young age during that time. She started having her own children one year later and continued having a baby every year or two after that until she had ten children of her own. There was always someone to play with but also someone to boss me around.
We always had plenty to eat although it was simple fare. Mom and Dad raised some chickens and hogs along with a few head of cattle. We had a big garden that everyone had to work in each spring, summer, and fall. The boys had to feed the chickens and livestock plus milk the cows. We girls all had to take turns pumping the butter churn.
The boys would pump water from the cistern out back and slop half of it out before they got to the kitchen. Mom would scold them and make them hoist the bucket to the sideboard so she could ladle water into the pot of beans that were always on the back burner of the coal stove. The boys didn’t care and would run back outside to try to avoid more house chores. They mostly worked with Daddy on the farm and taking care of the mules and horses.
Mom would have one of us girls peeling potatoes and another pulling green onions and radishes from the garden. All my sister, Gertrude and I got to do was set the table with plates and forks. The older girls were sewing or folding or ironing clothes. Wash day was on Tuesday but even after the clothes were washed in the hand-wringer washing machine that Dad had bought for Mom and hung to dry on the clothesline, it was Wednesday or Thursday before the girls finished folding all the clothes and got started ironing. Gertrude and I were dying to learn how to iron but Mom said we were too little.
Gertrude and I had to take care of the babies too. Mom would make us play with them to keep them occupied. Betty Ruth and Bud (James Samuel) was always under foot and Bill and Preston were just babies. We would put the babies down on a pallet with some beanbags and blocks and they would be fine for a while, but not Betty Ruth and Bud. They were in to everything and we had to keep a close eye on them or they found mischief and then we would get into trouble.
One time Mom laid a quilt on the ground near where the older girls were doing laundry and put the babies on it to play. Gertrude and I took the toddlers out for a walk. We got the bright idea to put them in the hen house so we could be free of them for a while and go play. It seemed like a good idea at the time; we thought they would be safe and would not be able to get out and run off to get in danger.
I guess we forgot about them because our sister Mary came after us with a switch in her hand. Mary’s face always looked pinched when she was mad so one glance at her let us know we were in trouble. We took off running and Gertrude went one direction and I went in the other. We ran screaming into the house letting the screen door slam behind us. Mom thought someone was hurt and hurried to console us. We hid behind her skirts and left her to deal with Mary. We slipped back outside and found Bud and Betty Ruth red-faced and bawling. One of the girls had rescued them and they were on the pallet with the babies. Their squalling made the babies laugh.
We had a lot of cousins that would come to visit. There was someone at our house almost every Sunday after church. My favorite cousins were the Taylors. Uncle Wes and Aunt Nettie were on my Mom’s side of the family and Tom and Allie were about my age. We would play hide and seek and one time I hid so well that no one could find me. When they finally gave up I climbed out of the wringer washing machine. I was the only one small enough to fit in the machine and I fooled everyone because no one thought to look in there.
Time passed and one by one the kids all started leaving home. My Dad retired after farming for over 35 years. Gertrude got married on August 13, 1939 and I married just six weeks later on September 30. We each had our first child less than a year apart, her first daughter was named Patricia Gayle and mine was Margaret Ann.
Gertrude had four daughters and was expecting another child when her young husband, Hurley Stafford, died suddenly. The family banded together to try to help her through this difficult time. When her baby was born five months later it was another girl. We felt so badly that this precious baby would never know her sweet Dad.
Our younger brothers Bill and Preston joined the military. Bill joined the Air Force Special Forces and was sent to Africa and Preston joined the Army and was sent to Korea. We were so relieved when they both came home safely.
We were all so proud of our brothers. Bill went to college and became a schoolteacher –the first in the family to get a college degree. At the same time our brother Bud was an entrepreneur and after working for a chain of grocery stores he bought his own store in East Prairie. Preston worked for Bud for years.
Bill married a vivacious young woman named Joan. It brightened our life to have four more beautiful children in the family.
I loved all my brothers and sisters but Gertrude was special to me. We were just young girls ourselves when we married and we thought we could not live without each other. Along life’s journey we found we could endue more than we ever thought possible.
By Sue Swinger-Ellbogen