Saturday, February 25, 2012


I wrote the following post a few months ago and revisited it yesterday.  After visiting with my first memoir coach Ana, she pointed out that my essays should have double spacing and be easier to read. When reading it again, I realized it needed more development as well. As I worked at it, I began making more connections and the story took a better shape. I have found that with practice, my thoughts develop more and I see my weaknesses better. I remember reading that Ernest Hemingway rewrote one of his works at least a hundred times.                              

      Edith Wharton said she had little memory of books or stimulation that stretched

 her mind, in her early years. Sounds unbelievable because she published so 

many works of literature, and supported herself  well on earnings from 

her writings. 

     My attention to literature developed at a snail’s pace, as well. There is little 

memory of books with any flavor that stretched my thinking.

      Sunday school and Bible classes in summer stirred my curiosity of stories from

 the Old Testament,  supplemented with maps of exotic faraway places of Egypt 

with the Nile and pyramids. At Christmas, the kings and wise men riding on camels 

and somewhere a story of Persia and flying carpets carried me to magic places.

     Elementary school readings are not memorable except,   “Dick and Jane”, 

and then “Heidi”, who lived in the Alps with a grandparent. The Alps were difficult 

to imagine when I was surrounded by the flat lands Of Oklahoma. The largest  

elevation of earth was the Arbuckles in the south part of the state. Okies called

them “Mountains”. But they did not know better. The Alps were very far away. 

In the third grade “Nancy Drew”, captured my attention because she was young

and drove a roadster through the hills and country, looking for mysteries to solve.

 I guess I found her at the library.

     But I do remember I found a college prep text. A previous tenant left it behind

 at my girlfriend’s house in her basement, where we sometimes played. Betty Lou 

said I could take it home. I glanced at the stories from time to time. It was filled 

with short stories and poems. I tried to read a few, but realized they were pretty 

advanced for me.

      I used the literature text to store my movie star pictures I cut from magazines 

and catalogued according to importance and then placed them between the pages. 

Viola, my first scrap book. My star pictures were of Bing Crosby, Gloria DeHaven, 

Peter Lawford, Betty Grabel, Clark Gabel, Mona Freeman, Lois Butler, Bill Holden, 

Joan Crawford, Dick Haymes, and Van Heflin. The names are barely visible, written 

on the blank pages in front. They are barely familiar, as well.

     I’ve kept the book since the third grade and now it sits on a shelf with 

hundreds of others. Over time, the pictures slipped out and were lost.

     The  old book was  published in 1933 and I have finally read my favorite stories. 

They include" A Ballad Rime Ancient Mariner,"  'Annabel Lee", and "The Finding of 

Livingston". When picking up the faded blue book in more recent times, I’ve

started the old legend, "Treasure Island," savoring each word. I was intrigued

 by "Gone With the Wind" a year later,   when I moved in with my aunty and 

cousin. I didn’t read it.  However, my cousin Helen, who was my age, read 

it for thirty minutes every day, while indulging in her morning constitution.  

We were only in the fourth grade and she was a better reader than I.
     I inherited this same book my great aunts, Aunt Mary and Aunt Opal said, 

after they read it, vividly described Atlanta,   as their grandmother, who was  

my great, great grandmother,  described to them. 

     She told of the horrors that she had seen and experienced during and after 

the Civil War. They were little girls when Grandmother Cornelia talked often 

of that time. But, they were so impressed they could  remember some of her 

stories.  They said she spent much of her time reading the big family Bible. 

She talked about the War and the Bible many times.

     Grandmother Cornelia’s home was on a plantation outside Athens, near 

Atlanta, Georgia. Her father owned numerous farms and plantations around 

the state. But after The War Between the States, as she called it, their property 

was pretty much left in shambles and much of their wealth was gone.

      The men in the family had been gone most of the time. When they returned, 

after the War, their Confederate money was worthless. But they struggled through 

their situation  for several years.

     Some slaves stayed on the plantation after the War and Grandmother

Cornelia taught the ex-slaves’ children  to read.

      Later, after her second cousin, Captain Albert Baird returned from 

the War, they married. My mother said there were not many men around because

 of the high fatality rate of the War. After Grandmother Cornelia’s parents died,

she and Grandfather Baird traveled by covered wagon, with some of the ex-slaves, to

 Hope,  Arkansas,  to  Grandfather Baird’s family. Grandfather Baird

 bought a  mercantile store in Hope and a farm, outside of the city.

     The Civil War was a constant memory in my mother’s family. At least two 

generations talked of it often. Only remnants of the family stories, pertaining

 to the Civil War,   remain today. Mother remembered only a few.  And I

vaguely remember the stories mother told.

     It’s like trying to hang onto a very old quilt that was used often to keep us 

warm.  Over the years it became worn,  frayed, and tattered. Now, I’m

clutching a threadbare quilt that is hardly recognizable as the same quilt that  

brought comfort to those who held it.

     Over the years, the old book I inherited, “Gone With the Wind”, barely 

holds together. It is similar to the quilt. The binding came apart and the pages 

hang loose from its binding. I decided to salvage it. I taped the binding so the

pages would stay together as I now read it.

      The old book that I’m holding together, literally with duck tape, was published

 in 1938.  And similar to my first movie star scrap book that held pictures of my

 favorite stars,  it too has pictures of Clark Gable and Vivian Lee, who starred in

the movie, so long ago.

     Now, I will hold the book so carefully. And while reading it, I will reflect  on the 

stories my family told of that important time in our family’s  history. I know

 I’ll never catch up on the important books that I missed,  beginning when I was

 young. And I know there was “too little too early",  but I will try to make up for it.



1 comment:

  1. Nice memories, Janine. I like where you're going with this post.