All her life, my mother loved being a storyteller. She had a phenomenal memory and spoke of her children and grandchildren, her nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents. She was the historian of the family and eventually, when everyone else from her generation had passed on, the extended family all begged her to write everything down, fearing that otherwise, the stories would be lost.
It wasn’t until she’d been retired from teaching for over fifteen years that she finally got started. My brother Charles gave her the book, “The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron, a twelve-week guide for the would-be writer or painter or artist of any kind. I’m not sure that Aura ever read the entire book, but she latched on to an early recommendation to write three pages every morning. Armed with a dozen freshly sharpened #2 pencils and a newly purchased lined notebook, she spent twenty minutes right after breakfast recording all the family anecdotes and anything else that crossed her mind. Five hundred hours and eight beautifully handwritten notebooks later, she declared herself finished and asked me to make copies to send around to my siblings and all her nieces and nephews.
I didn’t. Instead, I typed them up on my computer so that we’d have an electronic version that would be much easier to distribute. Excited to see her words printed out, she repeated her request for me to send it out to everyone. I didn’t. Rather, I talked her into allowing me to first put it into vaguely chronological order. Her stream of conscious meandering was gradually becoming a coherent story.
By this time, she’d lived with my family for close to twenty years and we’d grown accustomed to working together on all sorts of projects. We trusted each other and could freely critique one another’s efforts. So I told her that although what she’d accomplished was amazing, she hadn’t done the storytelling justice. I could just hear her capturing an audience with one anecdote after another, but her written version just didn’t do it.
She didn’t believe me. Through several book clubs to which she belonged she had made friends with a few authors. She consulted one to see what she should do, whether her journal required more work. Not surprisingly, she was told to start over. She came home devastated. She shoved her notebooks in the drawer, along with the printed copy I’d made for her and said she didn’t know where to start.