I found my muse when I least expected to find her. Or was it she found me? It was a time when I definitely wasn’t looking—perhaps that’s the magic and beauty of it. Even the realization that my muse had appeared didn’t hit me until the spark I had ignited in so many people began to blaze. The fire burned simply because I’d asked them this question, “If you could tell just one small story that would capture your Mother’s character and keep her spirit alive, what would it be?”
So the musings began…
My mother died, but she’s not gone. Her ashes are scattered in my garden. I see her in my flowers and taste her in my fruit, and I laugh and I cry with her and know who I am…and sometimes who I am not. I love to hear and tell stories about her, and I know that my children and grandchildren will discover her soul shimmering between the lines of those savory stories.
My mother was born Margaret Althea Cook. She wasn’t a saint and she wasn’t famous or wealthy. By most standards, she was just your ordinary, garden-variety mother…and isn’t that grand? I think so, but then I think the vibrancy and earthiness of a wild flower is beyond compare—and, yes, she taught me to appreciate those ordinary things in life.
I can best explain my journey toward “Keeping Spirits Alive One Story at a Time” by showing you how it came about months after my mother’s death over a decade ago. Back then, I asked family members and close friends to each write a short & true story to send to me. It went like this:
My mother’s death last fall prompted a plethora of remembrances. Through the tears of sorrow, bright rays of sunlight streaked as my sister and I talked of things recalled—great memories we enjoyed and hope to keep alive within our family.
Invariably, when I spoke to friends or relatives at that time, their memories too were jogged. And they’d tell little stories. Sometimes about my mother, but more often than not, their stories were about their mothers.
I found each story interesting. They ran the gamut from hilarious, passionate, bitter-sweet or sad, to amazing. Some were educational, others full of wisdom. These were stories to remember, but I soon forgot most of them.
So I’m hoping to coax these stories out of you now. Tell me a story. A tidbit. A trifle. What unique anecdote do you want remembered about your mother (aunt, godmother, grandmother, sister)?
A bio-vignette—a lesson, superstition, some wisdom, recipes for life (or the stomach), witchcraft, poetry, letters, instructions, ancient feminine echoes, a family ritual, herbs for what ails, maybe something you take for granted that would delight me. It doesn’t need to be profound or lengthy, just an original tale of a page or two. Thank you, and have fun remembering…”
Authoring a book filled with the stories people sent was not my initial intent. But my unassuming letter called forth the beginning of a remarkable chorus of voices. Voices I had the honor to hear when I read the bio-vignettes, as they came trickling in. I was so taken by each “Mother Memoir” that I hungered for more.
My journey expanded by reaching out to a wide variety of women and men through networking, teaching classes, and giving presentations. I coached people in the art of writing memoir, even when they thought they didn’t have it in them. To smooth their way to writing the bio-vignettes, I first developed an easy-to-follow, “How to” guide book, Give the Gift of Story: TellTale Souls’ Essential Guide to Tap Memory & Write Memoir in Five Acts (now out of print, see new book below*). People loved this guide—it worked. Yes, even those who doubted their ability to write have written heartfelt stories. Now that’s a gift to me.
The power of the simple truths revealed in these stories, accounts that stem from the core of the female soul, hit me. I saw in these stories lessons to be learned, the gift of evoking memory, even a healing force, and the rare capacity to unite us. I sensed these voices needed to be heard by a wider audience, provided that my gut reaction to them would be evident when other people read the stories.
I tested my assumption by gathering together friends, family, and acquaintances on many occasions, where we took turns reading bio-vignettes emotionally framing women from different walks of life. Just as I suspected, the upshot of our gatherings was a blend of tears and smiles, journeys down memory lane, and a real bonding between us, as well a feeling of kinship with the women whose characters were portrayed in the “Mother Memoirs.”
Another book was born and recently published, *TellTale Souls Writing the Mother Memoir: How to Tap Memory and Write Your Story Capturing Character & Spirit. This award-winning guidebook includes over 40 “Mother Memoirs” from my collection. I’ve arranged them strategically throughout the book to enliven the writing lessons and creative prompts running through its “Five Acts to Success.”
Those TellTale Souls, who gratefully walked this path, will tell you “Mother Memoir” has the power to move people and change awareness.
The Story Woman is pleased lending you her muse to begin writing Mother Memoir today.