Friday, November 19, 2010

Memoir and Real Life

By Susan

This post is not about writing as much as it is about real life.

I've always been a fan of great memoir. Last weekend I devoured two great tales of life stories- Mishna Wolff's I'm Down while flying east and Mary Karr's lit while flying west on my quick trip to and from Kentucky for my grandmother's 90th birthday.

Now, I will tell the truth about my Mama, my grandmother. Her past few years have not been easy. Her body has crumpled into itself, bones shattering and nerves misfiring. Her ears are shot. Her memory may be worse off than her hearing. Yet we had a huge party with over 100 people in attendance, and she showed up at The First Baptist Church's reception hall in a dainty corsage and a fuchsia blazer and was the belle of the ball. It was a celebration of a life well-lived.

"Let's not have such a big party for my 95th," she said to my mother as we exited the church.
I thought about Mama's life story all weekend as I read the memoirs of others. She eloped with my grandfather right before WWII because of my great grandfather's disapproval--my grandfather, even at 21, had already been married before. She had my mother in '42, my aunt in '51, and my uncle in '58, well-spaced babies that each represent their own generation. She was the first woman on the school board in my hometown, she led polio drives after her pregnant sister died from the disease, and she traveled extensively--from Mexico City for the '68 Olympics to London in the 1980s to attend the theatre. When my Uncle Mark moved to New York City, she made regular trips to see plays with him on Broadway.

When I returned from Kentucky, I took a day to drive to Austin to see a friend of mine recently diagnosed with brain cancer--a grade 2 astrocytoma in the left temporal lobe, to be exact. He's 30 years old and we went to Juan In A Million to scarf down some Mexican food.

We talked about the tumor as several of the wait staff would politely interrupt us in Spanish to ask about the stitches lined up behind his left ear. He would answer them, simply, el cancer, el cerebro. We talked about his daughter, who is turning four next month, and about his beautiful wife, whose birthday is today. We talked about quality of life versus quantity of life. We talked about regrets and travel and the upcoming decisions he will have to make about his treatment options. We talked about insurance and money and the marathon--yes, the marathon--that he is training for.

I told him about my grandmother, about the party and the visitors and the funny things she would say. For a moment, we looked at each other, thinking about time and life and what we do with it all.

Now, I will tell you a little about this friend of mine. He is brilliant and athletic and snarky and kind. He's traveled to umpteen countries and continents in the last decade--including tours of India, Europe and South America. He runs a 5:30 mile. He helps others for a living and volunteers his time working with troubled youth and the homeless population in Austin. And he'd rather die young than live forever without his mind intact. His only regret is that he's not yet gotten that tattoo he's been thinking about. I told him if he found the right tattoo artist, I would pay for it.

I finished the memoirs this week and thought about us all, spinning quietly in our own lives, not thinking about death, not thinking about consequences and choices and our actions--just moving forward. I respect the writers like Wolff and Karr who write their stories--not just so they can learn from them, but so that we can too. We each have a story. Maybe like my grandmother, you will live to celebrate your 90th birthday surrounded by family and friends and neighbors who love you. Maybe like my friend in Austin, your body will rebel and scare the hell out of you well before your time--and you will be surrounded by friends and family and neighbors who love you.

Make it count, I guess is my point to all of this. Make it count even when you don't feel like it. Live your story and live it without regrets. Finish that novel, lose the 10 pounds. Complete a 5K for those that can't. Help others and donate to worthy causes. Travel. Go to the theatre. Love God, your family, and your friends. Make sure they know you love them too.

Take care.


  1. Love this. To making it count! (my favorite line from "The Titanic.")

  2. "We're all story tellers. Are we living stories that are worth telling?" - Seth Moorman

    I was really pensive about that quote the other day. This post reinforces the idea that we can't waste time over petty problems and silly argument. We should fill our time with love, goal-reaching, and stories worth telling.

    <>< Katie

  3. This is wonderfully positive and upbeat, and it's exactly what I needed to read today. I am particularly touched by your last paragraph.


    B. Lynn Goodwin
    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers

  4. Thank you for writing about me. As I said for years before this, I was always dying. It's just important that you live all along the way. My little brother has always said, what you do today is important because you trade a day of your life for it.

  5. I love it that your Blogger name is "Mexican Vanilla" :-) Glad you liked the post. I'll be back soon so we can go get you that tattoo. And eat at Juan's again...


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...