As promised, I’m bringing you another story excerpt from my guidebook, TellTale Souls Writing the Mother Memoir: How to Tap Memory and Write Your Story Capturing Character & Spirit. It begins on page 59 of Act Two in the section entitled “Locating & Orienting.”
You can easily find the stories I’ve posted from the book by searching “Bio-Vignette No.”
Explore the interior of your childhood home or your current abode—note particular places or rooms that hold emotion.
Place yourself firmly and reflectively in a room of your choice in your home by using the innersearch exercise you learned in the last section. Then WRITE one page filled with the emotional sensations that arise while linking them to the images and events from which they developed. Travel from room to room and repeat this process in each place your mind takes you.
Leslie, one of the first TellTale Souls, wrote the following telling tale after exploring one busy room in her childhood home. This room was filled with poignant emotions which she found expressed volumes about her relationship with her mother. She achieved success in a mere 700 word bio-vignette.
When I was a kid, the best part of the day was when mom and dad came home from work. They were happy to see us, and we were ecstatic to be with them. They were so big, larger than life, like two movie stars. I thought my mom was incredibly beautiful with her blond hair stacked in a beehive, high heels, and shiny painted fingernails. She smelled so good. It seemed like we eight children couldn’t get enough of her. I believe that went for my dad as well. Mom was an only child, and she used to tell us she thought it was neat having so many people to love and to love her.
After dinner one night, I had finished my homework and went searching around the house for Mom. I wanted to know where she was at all times. When I came to the main bathroom, I noticed the door was slightly ajar and the bath water running.
“Mom are you in there?”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to take a bath.”
“Can I come in for awhile?”
Permission was granted. And so we entered into a tradition that continued for many years.
As a six-year-old, I was the perfect audience filled with awe and a million observations and questions. She filled the tub with bubbles and perfumed oils, and I sat and chatted with her as long as she would have me. It always seemed as if she were preparing herself for something beautiful. After she sank into the deep water, she explained that she put a washcloth across her chest to keep warm. I recall thinking she was hiding from my bulging eyes as I was struck by the sight of her womanly body. But I took her at her word about the washcloth, and I believed her promise that my body would one day be more like hers.
I questioned her about this cream and that sponge. I watched with intensity as she soaped her legs with the shaving brush and pulled the razor slowly across her white skin. What was that strange stone she used to scrub her feet? Why did she put that jelly-like mask on her face? Why did she use a stick on her toenails? My questions were never-ending. With infinite patience she explained to me that I would need to do these things as I grew up to feel better and to take care of my body. Sometimes I scooped up a handful of her bubbles and pretended to shave my legs. She told me how to avoid cuts by holding the razor just so. I wanted to do all the things she did, but she said children were so perfect that we didn’t need beauty routines. I was determined to practice anyway. As I became more accustomed to the routine, I would run her bath and lay out all the toiletries, as though she were my queen. Often our time while she bathed was spent just talking about our days. It was a quiet time. A time I could just be with her while absorbing the secrets of womanhood.
As I grew older, the rituals of her bath had become less mysterious, but the bath was still a sanctuary where we could have much-needed private conversations. I grew aware of her need for privacy, so we all (for the idea caught on like wildfire with all of my sisters) popped in and out for short powwows, conflict resolution, or for help with our homework. But when Mom went back to school, we were invited to the tub again where we quizzed her for her exams. We took turns going through stacks and stacks of flash cards for her Spanish, biology, and literature courses.
Looking back I realize Mom was giving me and my sisters perhaps the only time she had to herself in the entire day. Today I don’t think I ever take a bath without remembering my mom’s bathing. And if I place a washcloth across my breast, I feel an overwhelming sense of comfort.
Leslie Sullivan: “I looked for the big experience with my mother to write about, but found bits of time was the vital element. Living in San Francisco for over 40 years, with most of my seven siblings, parents, and friends, I do my best to give valuable time to each of them often. It’s the little connections that ultimately make the most difference.”
Use The Story Woman’s TELLTALE SOULS METHOD to move memory into memoir in a uniquely creative way.