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.

Mom was cited for passing a stopped school bus.

This was, in her view, a case of mistaken identity or police hallucination. There was no way that she, a law abiding citizen, substitute elementary school teacher, and trained social worker would pass a stopped school bus. Righteously indignant, Mom and her passenger (her friend Nell) went to court to assert her innocence. She took it as a personal affront when the judge dismissed her appeal of the police officer’s charge.

“Lady, I don’t think you would have seen the bus if it were pink with purple polka dots!” he told her in front of the court.

Much to Mom and Nell’s chagrin, the rest of the world found the judge’s words—and delivery—hilarious. And, I admit, Daddy’s “Lighten up” was tinged with more than a little gloat and was probably badly timed.

 Laugh at yourself as you write.

“Laugh at yourself” is good advice. If you read this blog, you know I’m a big advocate of avoiding perfection—or appearances thereof. Though “Authentic” is a buzzword now, it’s true that authentic people are easier to relate to. You connect with your loved ones when you drop all pretenses. When you laugh at yourself, you engage your readers or listeners. We’ve all been there, we can imagine ourselves in your situation.

Mom wasn’t so comfortable hearing my dad tell stories on her that depicted her in a bad light. She’d much rather tell them herself. Which is also a valuable take-away.

 Tell Your Version.

Grab the reigns and tell the story yourself. If people are going to laugh at you, you might as well have them laugh with you, or at your storytelling. If you feel uncomfortable, imagine you’re explaining the situation to a trusted confidant.

And don’t shy away from a story that family members have heard before. Chances are, they’ve only heard a version of it, but not your version! As you tell your story, you can include the back story and important details.

In my mother’s case, perhaps folks heard that Ellen and Nell were driving down the highway, so engrossed in their gossiping that they didn’t even notice a stopped school bus. But, if Mom had a chance to tell the story, it might unfold differently.

I would love to have a chance to ask her how her testimony as well as the police officer’s testimony unfolded. Did she tell her story first? Was there a sinking realization that she was wrong even before the judge issued his “pink with purple polka dots” decree? Was the judge laughing with her and Nell or was he sarcastic?

If she were telling the story, I’d know these facts. (She probably did, but hearing it as a little girl, my memory only clung on to the purple polka dot part and how mad she was at Daddy for gloating.) Sadly, she never wrote it down!

Family Historians’ Takeway.

For family historians, the “laugh at yourself” adage has further implications. If at all possible, we want to tell the story from the embarassee’s viewpoint.

First, it appears kinder. We’re not gloating, at least not publicly. For instance, since my mom’s not around to tell her version, I have to throw in the part about her normally being a careful driver. And, I even toy with adding in the defense that her friend was an animated and engaging conversationalist. I spent many hours in the back seat as Mom and Nell drove here and there. I can still hear Nell’s voice in my memory, her soft southern accent rolling from emphatic to indignant to hilarity in the space of a few sentences.

Secondly, it’s a better, more engaging story. Adopting the embarassee’s viewpoint goes hand-in-hand with all sorts of great storytelling techniques. Setting. Characterization. Timing.

 Your Turn

Go ahead. Laugh at yourself. If everyone else isn’t already, it’s because you haven’t told the right stories.

What stories have you left untold? (Comments please! I’d love to hear them.)

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!

The cake was Cinderella’s coach turned back into a pumpkin—a Bundt cake iced orange with a green banana serving as the stem. Mom drew Cinderella on poster board, and, instead of the traditional birthday party “Pin the Tail on the Donkey,” we played “Pin the Slipper on Cinderella’s Foot.” To my eyes, Mom’s Cinderella was just a beautiful—if not more so, than Disney’s Cinderella.

We girls wore “dress up” clothes, not to be confused with dress clothes. Whatever castaway slips, dresses, et cetera we could find or borrow from our mothers’ closets. Cinderella’s magic—or should I say Mom’s birthday party magic—turned us into princesses. Of course, our shoes didn’t fit. They didn’t have to. It was a Cinderella party.

Our banquet hall was the backyard. A paper table-cloth adorned the picnic table.

Years later, as I threw an over-the-top Harry Potter birthday party for my son, I realized that mom was not just indulging her daughter. She was celebrating her own dreams coming true. Growing up, she didn’t always have enough to eat, much less her own pair of shoes. Her childhood household was filled with love, but short on material things.

As a mother, she endeavored to do all the things her mother did, like stretching resources and filling the day with laughter. But she also tried to do the things that were beyond her own mother’s means, like throw an “extravagant” party with a Bundt cake, poster board Cinderella and paper table-cloth.

Her own glass slipper finally fit.

Your Turn: Write about a birthday party

Did you have a special birthday celebration as a child? Have you written about it? What are you waiting for?

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 102015
Write about average and it comes alive

When you write about average, others look at the details and see something a lot more compelling than simply “average”.

Average gets a bad rap. Well, not so much a bad rap as not enough rap. We seldom hear about him or her.

For instance, you never see Average’s mom post about his achievements on Facebook. “Congratulations to my son Average who achieved something that most kids achieve.” Instead, we see the parents of Average’s friends posting about their kids achieving all the things Average tried to achieve, but fell just a tad short. “Congratulations to my child Superior who achieved something momentous. My kid is wonderful beyond belief and worked so hard. #mykidisintheroomwithme #Imjustanattentionwhore.”

Okay, the hashtags are imagined, put in my head by a hilarious teenager. (I’m withholding her name to protect the snarky.) But the post isn’t imagined. Its equivalent passes through our news feeds on a regular basis. Continue reading »

Apr 032015
Are you a cousin? Are you related to AJ Jacobs

At RootsTech, we all held up “I am a cousin” signs. We’re all related to AJ–and to each other! (Photo credit RootsTech)

Because it’s not really about AJ and me. It’s about the fact that we’re all related—by blood, adoption, and marriage. Well, in a way it’s about AJ, since he’s the one organizing the Global Family Reunion. Continue reading »

Feb 132015
Who inpsires you?

Write about who inspires you?

Roots Tech 2015 (#Rootstech) opened with the question “Who inspires you?” Video clips showed various individuals naming famous heroes. After a few minutes, the answers segued into naming family members. It was a nice way to start thinking about how we introduce our family members. Not just who inspires us, but why or how they inspire.

I felt a pang—missing my Aunt Ann and wishing she could share this adventure with me. She led the quest to explore the Crymes family’s history. In fact, it’s not unusual to see her name as the reference of information on genealogy forums. She’d be awed by the crowds.

“Discovery” is a byword here. I wondered, what drives a person to embark on a journey of discovery? Is it rooted in curiosity? A need to connect and bond? Enamoredment (is that a word?) with the past? Something else? Continue reading »

Feb 092015
Cupid stories of the heart

Cupid can pin down great stories of the heart.

Valentine’s Day brings to mind sweethearts, chocolates, flowers, loving or romantic gestures, and sweet nothings–even when “sweet nothing” is literally all we have. In addition to providing a huge sales opportunity to the greeting card industry, Valentine’s Day causes us to pause and reflect on our stories of the heart. We reflect on what we have, what we have lost, and everything in between.

Since, if you buy into my theory, you’re already thinking about it, take a little time around Valentine’s Day to describe the great loves of your life or share the stories of the heart. Likewise, this time of year also lends itself to extracting some of those stories from family members.

Unspoken History to Oral History to Written Stories

You’d be surprised how little prompting some folks need when it comes to a subject near and dear to them—the people they love.

Stories of the heart start at the very beginning.

I’m a great believer in prompts, as you might have noticed. They are especially effective when it comes to teasing out the lesser known aspects of familiar stories. Perhaps the facts of the story are known, but the nuances are missing. For instance, others often know how we met our spouses. What they perhaps don’t know is how we initially felt about our spouse-to-be or significant other.

For instance, I recently read at the Henry Ford Museum that Coretta Scott King had misgivings about the prospect of marrying a preacher. She wasn’t sure she was cut out to be a pastor’s wife. Looking back over her life, that’s such a cool plum of information to understand. Such tidbits add great dimension and texture to stories, especially when others think they already know the whole story.

How we feel now

It’s especially fun to ask older folks how they feel about their long-time partner. If they’ve been married a quarter of a century or more, their stories of the heart are seldom told. A lot of things have become unsaid. It’s a nice chance for them to put their sentiments into words. Of course, the same applies if it’s our own story.

Ask for or Give Advice:

What advice would you give young couples starting out? Over what did you worry too much? What did you take for granted? What would you do differently? These make great interview questions as well as do-it-yourself writing prompts.

Rose bud Stories of the Heart as Metaphors

As much as I love metaphors, the metaphor of blossoming love, doesn’t work for the memory writer. Seldom does love move smoothly from bud to full bloom. It can explode into being. It can fade and re-bloom.

What metaphor works for the relationship you’re writing about? Fireworks that go forever? Fireworks over deep water? A trick birthday candle that can’t be blown out? A climbing vine that rises above adversity –or one that occasionally hangs on by its fingertips.

Your Turn:

You get the idea. Tell a story you’ve never told before or tell it in a new way.




Jan 262015
precious moments as a group

Precious moments don’t always make for perfect poses. **Troublemakers not identified to protect the fun-loving.

It’s been years since the phrase “precious moments” came to mind. Until recently, I associated “precious moments” with the figurines that became virtually ubiquitous when I was in high school. To my teen sensibilities, they weren’t sweet. They were saccharine.

Now that I’ve crossed the half-century mark, I’ve learned to appreciate the subtleties, not to mention the value, of sweetness. In fact, sometimes it’s a whole lot more elusive than drama and excitement. There’s a whole spectrum of things that are sweet before we cross over to anything close to smarmy.

And, it’s not just the figurines that are collectible. Continue reading »

Dec 042014
Wendy Parmley Shares Hope after Suicide

Author Wendy Parmley shares her story of finding Hope after Suicide — here in this post as well as in her recently released book.

I’m excited to have author Wendy Parmley share her insight with Treasure Chest of Memories readers. Wendy is an advocate for suicide prevention as well as for the support of loved ones left behind after a suicide. In this post, along with sharing her story of finding hope after suicide, she also opens up about the roles of her faith and sharing her story had in her physical and emotional healing.

I began writing my book nearly three years ago following a bicycle accident which left me unable to return to my nursing career because of the continued effects of a traumatic brain injury. During those dark days when I couldn’t get my brain to work, God spoke to my heart. I knew what my new work would be. My new work would be to tell the story of my angel mom – the story of her life, the story of her death, and the story of my healing journey. Continue reading »

Nov 112014
Telling your family story

How do you tell your family story?

What is your family story? As much as we talk about the importance of  passing down family history, we seldom define what that a family story is. Is your family story a compilation of all the individuals’ on your family tree? Is a story that takes place under one roof? Alternatively, is it a story that took place over generations?

Your family story can be any or all of the above, or it could be something else entirely. Continue reading »