“Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who has survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.
Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is okay if it is well done. Don’t worry about doing it well yet, though. Just get it down.” ― Anne Lamott,
Confessing: Risky Business or Healing?
I’ll Tell You Mine, If You Tell Me Yours
For dessert, I got The Snow Princess— an ice cream scoop decorated with whipped cream and sugar flowers, then topped with a china half-doll figurine and a tiny paper parasol. At forty-one, I vividly remembered this meal.
After lunch, I got my crumpled, sweaty list for Santa out of my coat pocket. I did not want to forget anything when I visited Santa. When it was my turn, I unfolded my list. I knew Santa would be impressed with this written summation of all that I wanted for Christmas.
Instead of taking my note, Santa asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told him all of the things, with the most important being a puppy. Santa asked me if I had been a good girl, and in that self-serving voice of all, regardless of age, I informed him, “I have been very good.” He told me that since I had been very good, I would get everything on my list. I got down and returned to my mother.
For weeks after this visit, my parents asked me what I had told Santa I wanted for Christmas. A straightforward child, I informed them that I had already told Santa what I wanted.
On Christmas morning, I ran down the stairs; I could smell bacon cooking and knew that my mother would want us to eat before we opened presents. My baby sister was in her high chair at the table, and without food, would not be content very long, yet another nuisance as far as I was concerned. I went into the kitchen and asked to open my presents. My mother gave in and told me I could open one and then we would have breakfast and open the rest after our meal. I ran to the living room and checked out the presents.
In our family, only parents wrapped presents; Santa’s were without trappings, so it was apparent that there was no puppy. I immediately got mad at Santa. He told me I would get everything I wanted, and I specifically told him a puppy, and there was not one.
That jolly, fat, cheerful favorite of children everywhere was a liar.
Only when writing my life history for my recovery, did I wonder about a few of the situations the resulted from that day. When I was writing about this experience, I asked my parents about it; not for their interpretation of my feelings or thoughts, but for their recollection. Both of my parents were surprised that I could remember that event. My mother told me that she and my father tried numerous times to get me to tell them what I wanted for Christmas. Each of them felt badly that they had no idea what I wanted for Christmas, and as my mother pointed out, only I could read the squiggly lines on my list.
At that moment, I knew that I wanted to explore my life as the child writing, and the adult reflecting. I also reflected on J.D. Stroube: “All that is left to bring you pain are the memories. If you face those, you’ll be free. You can’t spend the rest of your life hiding from yourself; always afraid that your memories will incapacitate you, and they will if you continue to bury them.”
For more about effective memoir writing, here are a few other posts that might help you develop your memoir.