Memoir: Rediscovering the Times

By: Marilyn L. Davis

“The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with — nothing brings it all to life like an old mix tape. It does a better job of storing up memories than actual brain tissue can do. Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they can add up to the story of a life.” ― Rob Sheffield, Love Is a Mix Tape

two drops of ink marilyn l davis

History is Doomed to Repeat

Perhaps this happens to all writers; we think that there are some important lessons that we want to impart to the world. We keep these memories fresh and revisit them, sure in our intent to jot them down someday and finally write that memoir.

Then our age or lack of prominence in the literary world reduces our ambition to thinking that maybe it’s just the family that might be interested in the greater truths as we perceive them. We’re no longer vying for the voice of our generation, just hoping to leave a family legacy. While that is a humbling admission, it doesn’t lessen the impact that a memoir can have on the family, or eventually, if published, on others.

For instance, I was a child in the fifties and a teenager in the sixties. Couple that with being a reasonably intelligent woman means there’s a lot of backdrops that will put my memoir into context, not just for my daughters and grandchildren, but perhaps for young women of today who do not know about the widespread discrimination of those times, or how many of us moved from the morality of the fifties to the free love attitudes of the sixties.

Graph It 

So, how do you rediscover time, events, feelings, and thoughts, and still include the major influences for your memoir? Are you wondering how you put your memoir into perspective so that it’s a bird’s-eye view of your life experiences, told within the context of the larger world events during your time-frame?
It’s as simple as starting with a timeline.
1967     1968    1969    1970    1971   1972

What Made It Memorable?

When you determine the beginning and end dates for your memoir, one of the easiest ways to focus your writing is to develop a timeline of significant events that happened in those years. Major or significant life events might include:
•    Awards or Recognitions
•    Births
•    Causes
•    Deaths
•    Diagnosis of a life-threatening illness
•    Divorce
•    Finding a spiritual purpose
•    First Job
•    Getting married
•    Graduations
•    Meeting a mentor
•    Moving and starting over in life or career
•    Social awareness
•    Starting a business
Now that you have both the chronology and the events, you can start writing about them. But as I’ve said in each memoir post, it’s the emotional component that makes memoir engaging, and the transformations that occur add richness to the story of the life._With this simple graph and major events, your theme emerges. But if it is not apparent to you in your first draft, don’t stress about it.

I Lived at the Time of… __

Although you are writing about you, there are other events taking place that factor in your memoir. If you look at the graph, you’ll probably remember that we were engaged in the Viet Nam War and many youths were protesting. There was social upheaval, and the morals and values of previous generations were being challenged.  Perhaps this coming of age in a time of disputed war is part of your transformation.
1.    Did you serve, or were you drafted?
2.    Did you love someone and marry them because they were drafted, only to find out that you didn’t know anything about love?
3.    Did you marry right out of high school, get pregnant, and then find yourself a widow at age 21?
4. Did you find yourself at odds with your parents, start protesting, and get arrested?
Not only were average kids protesting, but religious leaders were vocal about Viet Nam. Did your faith undergo a transformation?
1967 started the “Be-ins” in Central Park, culminating with over 10,000 demonstrators by 1969. The number of “barefoot, sandal-footed, hippie troublemakers” reached its zenith in 1970 when laws were changed to make demonstrating in Sheep’s Meadow more difficult.

The national media were agog. No one was able to agree whether 20,000 or 30,000 people showed up. Soon every gathering was an “-In” of some kind: Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In comedy television show began airing over NBC just a year later on January 22, 1968. This was followed by the first “Yip-In” (March 21, 1968 at Grand Central Terminal), “Love-In” (April 14, 1968 at Malibu Canyon) and “Bed-In” (March 25, 1969 in Amsterdam)._

Another way of protesting were the “sit-in”. Early civil rights activists used this non-violent form of protest to show the world how blacks were discriminated against.

Sit-ins on the Eastern Shore


However, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, there were no be-ins or sit-ins, unless you count the endless hours lazing in a boat on the Wicomico River waiting for a fish to bite. Oh, sure, we could read about the protests in Baltimore, New York, and California, and we often tried to emulate the hippie attire. But that was difficult when the only apparel we had access to was the Junior Department at our mother’s favorite store.
Some of us aspired to be like those archetypes of the hippie movement, or we admired the protesting priests who left their churches and burned draft cards, or we stated we understood how wrong the discrimination was, without having seen it or felt it.
We hung posters, finally found a hardware store that sold a black light, and smoked pot – not necessarily in that order. But we were pseudo. We were small-town kids trying to find direction in a changing world.
Hitchhiking to Washington, DC to attend a rally, I remember thinking that this might not be a good idea. The driver of the big rig seemed to find it necessary to touch my knee with each gear shift, but hitching was the only way to get there; my parents wouldn’t let me borrow the car. Yes, I still lived at home and denounced their values while eating their food, using their electricity, and usually, getting to use their car.
Deaths also haunted the American public during that time frame. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had galvanized and polarized the country on race, poverty, and social injustices.  Granted, not many of us were in the thick of things, but how those events shaped our values or decisions in life might just spark memories for a reader.

Music Recreates the Mood for Your Memoir

 dream of love guitar.jpg
Music is another way to get in touch with your former self. I guarantee that you’ll transport yourself back in time if you listen to enough of the music that was meaningful to you. The Beatles, Stones, Eric Clapton, solo, or as a part of any band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Hendrix were some of my favorites.
Janis Joplin made a believer out of me that “not-so-attractive” girls could make it. RIP Janis and Jimi; thanks for the memories.
It’s an interesting exercise to look up what was happening here in the States and around the world when you select your time frame and reflect on influences.  And who knows, you may be able to elaborate enough that this generation understands previous ones, so even if it’s only your grand-kids who read your memoir, they just might start having some appreciation for the trials, tribulations, and times of your youth.
Some of that has happened in my family; my nineteen-year-old granddaughter is just as much a fan of the Beatles as I ever was; however, I confess, I haven’t figured out how to explain a Nehru jacket, my teased hair or spit curls.
 marilyn graduation
Maybe, I should just let her watch  K. T. Oslin. Her song,  “80’s Ladies” says a lot.
We’ve been educated.
We got liberated.
And had complicating matters with men.
Oh, we’ve said “I do”
And we’ve signed “I don’t”
And we’ve sworn we’d never do that again.
Oh, we burned our bras,
And we burned our dinners
And we burned our candles at both ends.
And we’ve had some children
Who look just like the way we did back then.
Oh, but we’re all grown up now.
All grown up,
But none of us could tell you quite how.
So, crank up a Youtube from your generation. Be transported back in time, and see if your memoir doesn’t reflect those times better than you thought.


Photo credits:

Time and Guitar:

Personal Photos: Old albums


Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing








    • Hi, Terry. I was watching the History Channel one night and up popped a timeline, and from that came this post. I guess we never know what will spark the imagination, or be helpful in another process.

      Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them.

  1. Hi Abbie, oh I hope you follow through on friends or family’s suggestions and write one. And a timeline will save you a lot of endless hours trying to remember. Our brains like associations and when you remember one event, ask for memories about the topic. For instance, if you are writing about a particular holiday, then go through the months and reflect on any holidays for that month – July 4, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc. Those seemingly buried memories just bubble up and with the timeline, you only have to jot down a few key words to help with a first draft. Hope that expands some on the merits of a timeline for memoir.

  2. This is just what I’ve been needing, without realizing it! It’s been suggested more than once that I write a memoir, and a timeline is exactly where I shall begin. Thanks!! Beautiful work!

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