Not very long ago, I wouldn’t have been able to write much about my sister Connie. She’s nine years older than me and I imagine she didn’t find me particularly interesting when we were young. I know, though, that she liked the letters I wrote to her at college, for she told me she read them out loud to her friends over lunch. Once I was away at college myself, I realized how precious those handwritten letters were.
I wasn’t initially sure, however, that she was comfortable with me publishing a book about our family. She certainly is proud of our parents for stepping up to the Civil Rights Movement, and she’s appreciative of all the time I spent interviewing our mother, recognizing that this was one of the many ways that I took care of our mom in those last years. But I wasn’t confident that she was okay with the book.
Now, however, I know that I have her total and complete support. After our mother passed away last November, Connie consciously stepped into the role of providing the unconditional love that I’d enjoyed from my mother for my whole life. Sharing in my excitement over my manuscript is one of the many ways she has demonstrated this.
Yet I still worry that I’m invading the privacy of all of my siblings, writing anecdotes about them that are really theirs to tell, or not to tell. Then there’s my concern about accuracy. I’m really trying to be as honest as possible as I relate what happened during our family’s two years living in Mound Bayou, but the words are based on my interviews with my mother – and thus her memory of what happened – and on my own recollections from when I was ten years old. I spent some time interviewing my siblings and tried to eliminate anything they believed to be an inaccurate portrayal of events, but I still have this sinking feeling that everyone involved might be happier if I didn’t proceed with this project.
I’ve been told that the best selling memoirs are ones that air dirty laundry and say nasty things about family members. I could never do that. For one thing, there’s not a lot of dirty laundry to air. Sure, there were problems, as there are with every family, but all in all, we’re a relatively healthy group.
I smile as I think of the younger of my two brothers, Charles, disagreeing with me. He believes we grew up in a highly dysfunctional family and has congratulated me on not passing those problems on to my own four children. He was quite surprised to hear that I didn’t share his belief, that I believed that I grew up in a highly functional family instead. The interesting thing is that we’re both right. What worked for me didn’t work for him.