Sep 212015
Cemetery photo with saying representing a fata morgana

The stories of the past aren’t a fata morgana, they’re just waiting for you to give them voice.

Cemeteries don’t deserve their spooky reputation. Sure, they’re full of dead people (cue my father-in-law’s obligatory joke about “people just dying to get in there”), but they’re more than that.

They are the final resting place of our grief, a place where we can go and pay respects, one of the places where we can grope for some sort of continued connection to loved ones. They’re that and more.

Cemeteries are places where long-forgotten stories intermingle.

Odd as it makes me—and admittedly, it probably registers low on all the things that make me odd—I enjoy the cemetery where my parents are buried. I have from the summer they died. Though I found no connection or consolation from visiting their graves, I took an immediate liking to their neighbors.

Oakwood is a place where joggers jog and dog walkers tarry. It’s a diverse community of those who died too young, brave veterans—some harkening back to the civil war, elderly widows reunited with the loves of their lives, and plots of posthumous family reunions. The stories float around—just beyond my grasp, a fata morgana of stories of life journeys.

My friend John Kingston introduced me to the concept of fata morgana. It’s a superior mirage; the shimmering band of light that you often see on the horizon, particularly in warm weather. It’s an unreachable apparition, a seemingly apt metaphor for the stories of the past.

However, here in Michigan, fata morganas on roadways pale in comparison to their appearance in other parts of the world. For instance, in the Straits of Messina, between Sicily and mainland Italy, fata morganas are known for the show they put on, refracting light into castles, cliffs, and ships.

A fata morgana

A fata morgana at sea

The weather doctor, Keith C. Heidorn, explains the phenomenon: “In a Fata Morgana mirage, distant objects and features at the horizon appear as spikes, turrets or towers, objects with great vertical exaggeration rising from the surface… Literally, Fata Morgana means the Fairy Morgana, a reference to the English legends of King Arthur’s enchanted sister Morgana, who dwelled in a crystal castle beneath the sea.”

Fata Morgana of Stories

Perhaps the comparison is backward. In other words, perhaps it’s the fata morgana that’s like those stories of the past, waiting to be told. They appear—a visual prompt, appealing to the imagination. They hover, just out of reach, just out of comprehension, begging to be conjured into narrative.

A fata morgana is made of refracted light, dissipating upon approach.

The stories we seek don’t dematerialize. In fact, the opposite is true.

The stories intermingling in cemeteries (as well as in shoeboxes, ignored journals, and that list of well-intentioned things we plan to get around to), don’t scatter and lose definition as we approach. The details of the life, if only the start and finish, stay in focus. And, with creativity and care, the focus sharpens, the longer we look. They wait, patiently through the ages, for our research and imagination to bring them to life.

Stories often hang out in the netherworld, a world not unlike the proverbial tip of the tongue. They’re just waiting for someone to give them voice.

Your Turn:

It doesn’t take much fairy magic to transform those castles in the air into beautiful family tales. Turn a fata morgana or two into a narrative that will continue to connect your family to their past and their heritage.

Aug 312015
What would my ancestor think of me? At Losely Park in Surrey UK

As I visited the former home of Sir George More, the question came to mind. I do wonder “What would my ancestors think of me?”

What would my ancestors think of me?

I had my doubts recently, as I traipsed around the UK, seeking out locations where my ancestors lived and died. As I visited Loseley Park in Surrey in England, the manor home where my ancestors enjoyed an aristocratic life-style in the 17th century. Family members not only hob-nobbed with royalty, but also acted as treasurer for Henry Frederick, the then Prince of Wales and served in Parliament under King James.

As I embarked on our trip, I planned to visit “ancestral sites” more in an effort to “feel the dust of my ancestors’ shoes,” rather than to research. (I was traveling with a son who is not into genealogy.) As we drove up the long winding road to the estate, I realize they my ancestors probably seldom felt the dust of their own shoes. They would have had staff to prevent most dust-ups, and were their footwear to acquire undesirable soil, said staff would have removed the dust or other offending matter.

I wondered as I roamed the grounds, what would these titled ancestors think of my son and me. If we were able to time travel and present ourselves as cousins, I doubt they’d be impressed. Would they receive us graciously as members of the extended family? Or, would they be more like the character Hyacinth in Keeping Up Appearances, quickly ushering us behind closed doors before true aristocrats saw us?

Or am I being unfair? Perhaps they understood the inherent risks for putting their nest eggs in the royal basket. Those were turbulent times. Perhaps they were only doing whatever was necessary to provide for their progeny. I should be, and am, grateful for that.

Tomb in Lincoln Cathedral

What would Katherine de Roet Swynford and Joan Beaufort think of their 21st century progeny?

Likewise, at the Lincoln Cathedral, as I looked down at the tomb of my ancestor, Katherine Swynford on the south side of the cathedral’s choir, I wondered. What would my ancestor think of me if we had a chance to sit down and chat? She died at the turn of the 15th century. What would she have thought about the sheer number of descendants that she had created? Would she feel any differently about me than the royal family members? Would she feel honored that her descendants come looking for her tomb?

Your Turn:

You don’t have to visit ancient sites or plan a trip overseas to ponder this question. Do you ever wonder “What would my ancestor’s think of me?” What insight have you gained?

What would they think of your station in life and your achievements?

What would they think of your faith (or lack of following a faith)?

What would they think of the time and culture you live it?

What would they think of family alliances made after their time?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Jul 022015
Hometown context - a graphic of houses along a river

Adding hometown context can help your stories come to life

Your hometown comes to represent much more than the place you grew up. It’s your version of your state and country.

When we write about family members, ancestors, or ourselves, it’s important to give readers a glimpse of that hometown context. It helps explain worldview, values, and traditions. It helps them understand the personalities involved in our stories.

For instance, my hometown still colors my perception and understanding of events, even though I’ve now lived away from South Carolina as long as I lived there. It’s part of me. Though I’ve lived in the mid-west for over twenty years, I still consider myself a southerner. Continue reading »

Jun 182015
crest share surname history

A crest isn’t the only way to share surname history. Share stories too!

Aside from the “cock” part and the inherent playground emotional trauma that comes with bearing it, the Hedgecock name has a lot to be proud of.

Since I only adopted that name after my marriage, I confess to letting a giggle of two escape at some of the Hedgecock name jokes. “Bush-chicken,” for instance. My husband and sons fail to see the humor. Continue reading »

Jun 112015
Happy Father's Day Story

Your Father’s Day Story might not fit the card shop mold, which is all the more reason to tell it.

Father’s Day isn’t always about the idyllic childhood or the perfect nuclear family.

It’s not always a “Hallmark” holiday. A day the lucky among us (including me) celebrate and remember the strong men that were positive influences in our lives. We give the ubiquitous tie or black socks to replace the ones that the washing machine ate to the men we love. We barbecue dad’s favorite meat on the grill. And yes, we spend time at the card shop deliberating. Continue reading »

May 252015
Memorializing veterans

What’s Memorial Day? A day for memorializing a veteran–or veteran’s story

Are you missing the point on Memorial Day? If you’re a memoirist, or memory collector, you might be.

We treat Memorial Day as a remembering day, not a memorializing day. And what better day could there be for memorializing?

Celebrating and remembering is great. So is hanging out your flag. But, if we want folks to remember the sacrifices that were made decades from now, we need to make sure stories of our veterans aren’t lost. And what better day to do that than Memorial Day? Continue reading »

May 192015
Laugh at yourself

Whether or not everyone else is laughing at you, “Laugh at yourself” makes for great writing.

That misquote from B.J. Neblett didn’t go over so well with my mom when my Dad said it to her in the mid-sixties. Mom had a great sense of humor, but she didn’t like being teased. I often wonder if it’s because my uncle Joe teased her so much when they were young. Or was it her reaction to teasing that made it so much fun for my uncle to tease her? I digress.

This not-so-gentle nudge to laugh at yourself is good life advice. But, it’s more than that. In my opinion, it borders on a memory writer’s and family historian’s imperative.

The story in question when my dad encouraged my mom to “lighten up” was about the only time (to my knowledge) that Mom received a “ticket,” or traffic citation. Continue reading »

May 112015
My mom birthday party genius

My mom the birthday party genius

Why Mom wanted to make my dreams come true and what that has to do with a birthday party.

A Mother’s Day Tribute: This mother’s day I decided to practice what I blog and write down one of my favorite memories of my mom.

The day of my Cinderella birthday party seems like a fairy-tale. That is if a story without separation of a family, drama, conflict, and drama can qualify as a fairy-tale.

I’m guessing it was my 7th birthday. Mom didn’t have a big budget, but she made up for it in enthusiasm. And she did it without Pinterest! Continue reading »

May 062015
Emotional furniture of your memories of your first home

As you write about memories of your first home (or any other place), include some emotional furniture.

When I first heard the prompt “Write about your memories of your first home,” my first reaction was, “Oh yeah, write about the place I can’t remember.” I wasn’t alone. The woman next to me offered aloud, “My first home after I got married?” She grew up as a military brat. She couldn’t even remember the number of home she had lived in, much less any details about the first one.

Of course, she was right. There’s several ways to adapt this prompt into something that will resonate with you and your readers. The point is to get your memories to paper and to connect with others through your stories. For instance, in addition to writing about your actual first home, Continue reading »

Apr 162015
Author Judith Fein emotional genealogy

Author Judith Fein writes about emotional genealogy

Today, I’m particularly pleased to present a guest post by Judith Fein and her concept of emotional genealogy.

When I gave my first talk about the power of Emotional Genealogy, I wondered if anyone would be able to connect to what I was speaking about. To my surprise, audience members asked questions for over an hour, and then they continued with personal questions for another half an hour.

You may be wondering what Emotional Genealogy is. Briefly, it involves examining how the behaviors of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents influenced who we are and how we are in the world. And it doesn’t matter if we knew them or not. Continue reading »