Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Memoirs - Popular Book Genre

For the last few years memoir writing has been a popular genre among publishers and the public. With my interest in getting everyone to write their childhood memories and family stories, I began collecting books of people I have met who have written about their life. I am now reaching the point where I have not met everyone, but I do try to get their autographs. I have never been interested in autographs, but I think doing so for this genre emphasizes the human connection to the stories.

Several books in my collection are listed at the bottom right of this website. I urge you to read them. The variety is amazing, and to know that these are real people who have lived through some unique times makes personal history so much more important than what is given to us in history books. You may not feel that your life is as unique as these, but to your descendants it is just as important. Many of us do not realize that we are living history daily and that our individual lives actually create our collective history.

The following is a short review of each book listed and my connection to the authors.

Childhood Shadows: The Hidden Story of the Black Dahlia by Mary Pacios, Author House, 2007
Mary Pacios was a childhood acquaintance of Bette Short, dubbed the Black Dahlia. After years of anguish over how Bette has been treated in the media, Mary wrote her own book, disproving all the suspects in this brutal murder, and reaching a surprising conclusion about who may have been the killer. Mary explained that once she stumbled upon the possibility of Bette’s real murderer, she tried to disprove the possibility, but too many facts pointed in the direction of this famous Hollywood star. Mary has twenty-five pages of resources to support her work. Do check that you read the most current edition.
Mary, an artist by profession, has been in my writing class for a few years and has nearly completed her second book. This one is about her life stories with the underlying theme of the struggles of women since the 1940s.

Code Name: Copperhead: My True-Life Exploits as a Special Forces Soldier by Sergeant Major Joe R. Garner, US Army (Ret.), Simon & Schuster, NY, 1994
Sergeant Major Joe R. Garner served in the Vietnam War with twenty-one of his twenty-seven years in the Special Forces. His book was so well documented that Simon and Schuster made no disclaimer regarding the content, unlike many Vietnam era books. His story tells about his exploits during a time when our country was in conflict over the war; during a time when we were told we were not in Cambodia, but Joe was there. These memories are written honestly by an athlete who left high school to help support his family; by a courageous soldier who was the first man to jump with an A-bomb on his back; by a brave combatant who saw his best missions as saving the lives of other soldiers.
Joe is the husband of my cousin Kathy who used her Singer Sewing Machine to remake parachutes for Joe and his team as the Army wanted to perfect their use for combat. I have had the pleasure of hearing many stories of events happening after the war which are related to POWs, MIAs, and mercenaries. Most of these are not in the book and do not shed a positive light on our government. Joe is from the hills of Tennessee and continues living in the wooded area of the Ozarks which he much prefers over city life.

Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot by Bruce and Andrea Leininger, Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2009
Some children have imaginary playmates, see what others call ghosts, or just make strange statements which adults dismiss as nothing. Given the religious norms of most people in the US, the majority of the population does not believe in reincarnation or ghosts. We have fewer reported incidents of such events when compared to other countries, but this story is considered the best case of a child’s past life memory in America. At age two James began to form sentences and revealed facts about World War II airplanes that baffled his parents. His father, a non-believer in past lives tried to disprove his son’s story. In the end, James was able to talk with the sister of the dead WWII pilot who died in a fiery crash. James was able to tell the sister information that only her brother would have known.
This family lives in a small town in Louisiana near the sister of my good friend. When my friend’s sister celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary, this book, signed by the authors and son James, was distributed to the guests.

Run Jane Run: A True Story of Murder and Courage by Jane Wells, New Horizon Press, Far Hills, NJ, 1996
A Kentucky law forbade a wife from divorcing her husband if she was pregnant, so Jane endured abuse and physical beatings until her child arrived. She entered a woman’s shelter and divorced. Along the way, the legal system blocked her way and defended her husband. Her abusive second husband murdered her first husband in front of two of her children when he returned to help Jane. She is currently living in a different state with her children as the ex-husband is not in jail, but married again. Jane has completed a degree in criminal justice, political science and women’s studies. She currently works with battered women, and has appeared on Oprah.
I will only state that I know Jane’s youngest child well, and have had several conversations with her as their location must remain anonymous.

Son of Scarface: A Memoir by the Grandson of Al Capone by Chris W. Knight, New Era Publishing, LCC, New York, 2007
Chris discovered when his father died during his teen years that he was the grandson of Al Capone. Chris retrieved his father’s address book his mother was discarding. This book provided clues to his father’s identity, and lead Chris on a research investigation leading him to conclude that his father was really Sonny Capone. His story focuses on a mentally disturbed mother and times of joy when his father was home. It is amazing how much Chris looks like Al Capone.
Chris is a member of my Campania, Italy DNA Project. He tested and is hoping to have other members of the Capone family test. He was just another tester until I mentioned my interest in people writing their memories. He then told me about his book and sent me a copy. I hope to meet him some day.

Somehow, We'll Survive: Life in Japan During WWII Through the Eyes of young Caucasian Boy by George Sidline, Vera Vista Publishing, 2007
The Sidline family left Eastern Europe and lived in Japan where George was born. The book focuses on George’s life in Japan during World War II where the family dodged American bombs, avoided Germans who also lived in Japan, made friends with the American POWs in the house next door, dealt with food shortages, and attended English-language schools. How the Sidline and other Jewish families were treated by the Japanese was remarkable. His experiences and perspective of the war make a unique story.
George lives locally and spoke to my writing class about his life. The presentation was also attended by members of the Jewish and Japanese community as well as a local ethnic newspaper.

Often there is little we can control in our lives, but we do know that the events of our lives either strengthen us or break us. All of these authors have found success regardless of their past. They do not tell their stories for pity, but to record their lives so it may help others understand that good can come from evil, that understanding and supporting each other makes us stronger as a people. Only through telling the stories can the events live as testimony of a time that has been or needs to be altered ... of a time where understanding and acceptance is required ... of a time that will help all of us open our eyes and hearts to what is and what can be.

Our stories have unspeakable value. We cannot judge that value; only time and the future generations can.

©Aulicino, Aug 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Who’s Who in the Family

Many of your personal stories contain family members which are mentioned from time to time. Some have their individual stories while others may play minor rolls for now. You may have referenced a particular grandmother or favorite uncle often. Have you clearly stated which grandmother or uncle? Do you find yourself repeating the connection in other stories? Are there relatives you have not mentioned?

This may be the perfect time to create a family directory to clarify who’s who and to ensure everyone has at least some small part in your memoirs.

This directory can include each member of your immediate family as well as your aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. You may choose to go back as far as you can with family members, even if you do not write stories about every individual.

Write a short paragraph for each person, recording their occupation, interests, and hobbies. Include their relationship to you and to other family members (i.e., the wife or husband of…). Give any dates of birth, death, burial, and marriage as well as the location of each where possible. In what town or part of a town did they resided or, if living, where?

You may wish to add something personal regarding your relationship with each person. This could be how close you were, what you remember most, what traditional activity you did with them.

No doubt this can be a writing that is continuous as you may wish to add more ancestors or to include new family members added through birth or marriage.

Consider placing this directory in the back of your compiled stories or as an appendix.

“Memoing” My Memories
Topic 301: Who’s Who in the Family
©Aulicino, 21 Jun 2010

Friday, January 1, 2010

Legacy of the Sandwich Man

Over the past few years, I have given my writing students a topic that asked who has changed their lives and whose lives they have changed in some way. It is often a subject that we think requires some great act or one that results in some momentous change. This is seldom the case.

My local newspaper had such a story which needs to be shared. Although I wrote the topic prior to this, the story illustrates what I had in mind.

The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), November 22, 2009, Section O, page 2. “The legacy of the sandwich man” by Margie Boule.

I paraphrase this powerful piece without violating the privacy of the family involved.

A middle-aged man (I’ll call him Sam.) died suddenly, and the family published his obituary. Another man happened to see the photo and recognized the deceased. He visited the chapel where the viewing was held, but entered when the family had left. As this man appeared to be homeless, the lady (I’ll call her Ellen.) overseeing the visitation followed the man into the chapel fearing he would steal something. When Ellen asked if she could help the man, the homeless gentleman turned, and she could see tears in his eyes as he asked if this was truly the sandwich man.

The homeless man told Ellen of standing outside a building Sam passed daily. Although the man asked for money, at some point Sam decided to offer him a sandwich instead. A few times a week Sam would walk by, handing the homeless man the sandwich and never preaching to him about his situation. The man told Ellen that he shared the sandwich with others.

The funeral was held and hundreds of people attended, giving testimony of Sam’s other good deeds of helping the elderly, loaning money, supporting co-workers, etc. His family had no idea these acts of kindness had occurred.

The homeless many did not attend the funeral, but his story haunted Ellen and the stories of Sam’s kindness at the funeral made her wish she had known him. A week later, Ellen bought an extra sandwich and headed to the building where the homeless man was stationed. She handed him the sandwich; he smiled and said thank you. She continued this kindness until her company moved her to another suburb.

She started telling Sam’s story to her family and friends. She urged them to pass out sandwiches and many do. One of her friends has a bag of socks in her car and gives them out. Ellen has given her umbrella to a mother and child walking in the rain. She has purchased extra fast food to share with those more in need.

Ellen stated that Sam has changed her, and she now looks for ways to help others. The legacy of the Sandwich Man lives on in Ellen and her friends.

In this New Year, you can be the Sandwich Man. I challenge you to do acts of kindness every day and not to judge those people in need. Do not just say thank you or open a door; stretch yourself to do better than that. Make a list of what you can do; add to the list often; check off what you are doing. As you practice more random acts of kindness, more ideas will come to mind for your list.

To start your ideas, try these:

1. Carry protein bars in your car or your purse and hand them out to people on the road or sidewalk who need help.

2. Most cities have a location where you can purchase food certificates for the homeless. Buy those and pass those out. Be sure that you are in the area where the restaurant is as most homeless have difficulty getting around.

3. For the holidays and winter, purchase hats, scarves, gloves, and coats of all sizes for children. These can be dropped off at various shelters or schools.

4. In August gather school supplies you find on sale at various stories. Donate them to your local school. They will use them for those who cannot afford the items.

5. Take your old clothing to a Women’s shelter for the women and their children.

6. Take your used blankets and pillows to shelters.

7. Volunteer at a soup kitchen.

8. Help an elderly neighbor with cooking, cleaning, or doing errands.

9. Take food regularly to your local food bank.

10. If you are behind a person in the grocery line who is carefully counting their pennies or returning an item, let them know it is their lucky day and you are giving your change to help or buying the item for them.

11. Greet everyone on the street even if they do not return the gesture. Be sincere and ask how they are or wish them a good day. SMILE

12. Carry items in your car that you no longer really need. Everyone has more coats or gloves than we really need. Did you make cookies…hand out bags of them. Share what you have; hand them out to those who need them. You are better off than half of the population!

So how does this fit writing your childhood memories and family stories?

Think back on who gave you a little boost when you may have needed it. Maybe it was only verbal encouragement or they let you off the hook in a situation. Write about the people who changed your life, even in small ways. Write about how you have helped others in the past and now that you will continue the legacy of the Sandwich Man.

BUT more importantly, for this New Year…

As we age we either get sweeter or become grouchier. Which way are you leaning?

Vow to make the future better for everyone. Give of yourself so that you can receive; help those less off than you; practice random acts of kindness. In doing all this your days will be happy. You never know how much you touch another person and what a difference you make in their lives. Live as if there is nothing more important….because there isn’t!

May the New Year bring kindness and generosity to every heart. May it start with each of us!

1 Jan 2010