My actual treasure chest of memories is my brain. Since I’ve had a MRI, I guess theoretically, I could scan and embed a picture of it. However, as the radiologist’s report spelled out that my brain was “unremarkable,” I’ll spare us all the embarrassment.
Those who read your memories in years to come will greatly appreciate the addition of dates and/or landmark events that transpired during the same time frame.
This doesn’t mean you have to know or research the exact date. Keep in mind that historical reference points are not simply dates or decades. They are any references that orient your reader to the environment in which your narrative occurred. It could be post-wartime, depression, during civil rights demonstrations, or during a certain phase of a lifetime, such as “when the kids were still in diapers….”or “before cars were equipped with turn indicators…” Such added detail not only gives your memories more texture, they help assure that your readers will fully understand the story you’re telling.
You can also give historical perspective by the vocabulary you use. Maintaining terms that were common to that time period will help convey the essence of that time. Although we don’t have them today, we all understand what sanatoriums, speak-easies, general stores, and cable cars were. Likewise, though few of us use the term “groovy” on a daily basis, using it in a story about the 60’s can help your reader transport themselves to that period in time.
As you write about your memories, try to illuminate your narratives with time references and historical perspective.Even if your recall is not precise, the more information your readers have, the greater the ease with which their imaginations can accompany you on your walks down Memory Lane.
© Laura Hedgecock 2011
The stories we write to annotate our scrapbooks and family trees might be timeless, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t benefit from the addition of a date or two. Genealogists in particular love dates, with good reason. It’s not simply the fact that they eliminate the blank spots on our cascading pedigree charts—they also give us historical perspective.
Awareness of the time periods in which ancestors lived can fill in details between the bare facts provided by comparatively bland church, military, and government records.
However, genealogists are not the only ones that benefit from the inclusion of dates. Writers of both fiction and non-fiction use historical perspective to give their readers insight into characters lives, allowing readers to infer or “fill in” details based on the circumstances of time and place.
When writing about the past, time can be as important as place in providing a setting. For instance, my husband’s grandfather was a linesman for the telephone company. Without any historical context, you’d imagine him to be like linesmen you see working today. However, with the additional information that he was a linesman in the 1920’s, your imagination takes a different turn. You might see him more as he perhaps saw himself—a trailblazer, making the way for the inevitable progress of technology.
Including even a brief amount of historical context not only helps orient your reader, but also lends a deeper understanding of why events may have happened as they did.
You might not remember exactly what year something took place, but by adding such information as “when the twins were still in diapers,” or “back before cell-phones, when you could actually find a working public phone,” you’ve given your readers a wealth of additional information on which they can base their visual images.
(c) Laura Hedgecock.