Over the course of several weeks this past summer, a group of 26 South Shore residents of all ages and walks of life gathered together at the Duxbury Senior Center to study the craft of memoir writing. Some of the participants were published authors, while others had little formal writing experience. For most, the goal of attending the workshop was to commit a portion of their life story to paper for future generations.
Thanks to a grant from the Harry and Mary Grafton Foundation, the senior center was able to recruit some well-known authors to help instruct the group. Marianne Leone, author of “Jessie, a Mother’s Story,” Melanie Brooks, author of “Writing Hard Stories,” and Panteha Sanati Zaker, author of “Under the Papery Roof” all shared their experience and wisdom on the writing process.
The class was modeled after a similar one offered through Boston’s well-known GrubStreet writing incubator and was led by the Duxbury Senior Center’s media coordinator Brooke McDonough and her co-leader Carol Jankowski, former director of the Duxbury Free Library.
“At the conclusion of the class, everyone handed in their final piece. Some of the stories were heartbreaking, while others were humorous or uplifting. What became clear to us all, however, is that every life is a distinct and precious journey and everyone has a story to tell,” says McDonough.
A collection of essays from participants were compiled into a book entitled “Telling our Stories,” published by Stephanie Blackman of Riverhaven Books in Halifax. The class participants will be reading from their essays on November 14 at 5 p.m. at Westwinds Bookshop in Duxbury. Copies of the book can be ordered by calling the bookshop 781-934-2128, or by visiting riverhavenbooks.com.
Excerpt from “Girl on a Bus”
By Marie Morreale Keefe of Duxbury
Back in 1965, Quincy was a rapidly growing city. Its schools were bursting at the seams with an overflow of students and new construction became a necessity. City officials scrambled to find an alternative site for us. Bus routes were mapped out and children were reassigned. This is how I happened to be on that bus, on that day, at that time of the morning. It is how I came to see, from the window of the bus, the very thing from which my parents had tried to shield me–my grandmother’s funeral. I pressed my face tightly against the window, eyes straining to take in the scene that was unfolding before me. I knew what was happening but no sound passed my lips. The window glass remained clear, unstreaked by the tears that stayed deep inside me, not reaching the surface. The grief moved into my chest where it solidified into a hard, tight ball. It suddenly hurt to breathe. I knew that my Nana was in that church and I was not there to say goodbye. But in the aftermath of it all, I have made my peace with this defining moment of my childhood. I know now that although life does not always go as planned, there are truths that lie in wait for us. They stay hidden in the shadows until we are ready to accept and embrace them. This is my truth, my gift from my grandmother. In my mind, I can still walk hand-in-hand with her through the green fields of summer, looking for wild fiddleheads to collect for our evening salad. I can curl up in her bed as she carefully cocoons me in her big fur coat, keeping the winter chill at a distance. I can save a place for her in my heart where she can live even though she has gone from this earth.”
Excerpt from “The Blue Bomber”
by Beth Cameron-Kilbridge of Weymouth
Charlie Baldwin was very generous in sharing his big blue Buick with my mother, who always filled it with gas and oil before returning it to him. He never let anyone else drive his car, not even his wife. Charlie said my mother was as smart as a man. One hot summer night, my mother was home from work and fixing our supper when the phone rang. Charlie offered the car, so we gobbled down our meal and jumped into the Blue Bomber with a back seat full of neighborhood kids and headed to Paragon Park. We travelled to Nantasket on the old roads out of South Boston through Quincy, Weymouth, Hingham and Hull with the windows down and everybody screaming. There were no seatbelts back then and there were not many cars on the road. I sat in front with my mother. At 5 years of age, I was a young navigator, but I could see that she was getting agitated. She said nothing. We were travelling at a pretty good clip, zipping along to a chorus of “Are we there yet?” and everyone yelling “WEEEEEEEE!” with arms flailing out the windows. Suddenly, old lead foot hit the gas and as the speed increased, everyone’s attention was engaged. We were really cruising. Wow, what a ride, it was better than any amusement park attraction. We were flying! Not a sound from front or back. All eyes were glued straight ahead with hands clasping the edge of the seat cushions.
RED LIGHT!!! too late, mother was going too fast to stop and there were no other cars on this lonely stretch of road, so on we went.
BLUE LIGHTS!!!…out of nowhere came the police car with lights flashing, red and blue, red and blue, but mother kept going. Around the next bend, she shut off her headlights and pulled into a long driveway. We were all crouched on the floor, no one dared to get up. We waited. After a while, we slowly pulled out of the darkened driveway and ambled along to Paragon Park.
Excerpt from “Inside her Little Brown Suitcase”
By Maria Green of Plymouth
Her name was Adelaida. She left Puerto Rico in search of a better life for herself and her three children and she landed in Plymouth. Inside her little brown suitcase, she carried all of her dreams, hopes, faith, courage and very little money. She didn’t speak English, so she took a class at the local high school where she learned the language. Soon she found a job as a waitress at a small restaurant in town. The Portuguese women in our new neighborhood became her friends and turned into our family. Adelaida was becoming an American woman yet longed for her homeland and relied on her memories to carry her through long days of work and longer nights of loneliness. The early years must have been a struggle, but we never knew. We had everything we needed, a loving home and our beautiful mom who loved us more than life itself. I know now that her faith in God gave her the courage and hope she needed to cope. In the blink of an eye we grew up and started families of our own. She adored her grandchildren. She would end her journey on this earth in 1993. I wish I had known I would only have 31 years to show her how much I loved her. I still have her little brown suitcase. It is now weathered and cracked, but I still feel her love inside. It now carries my hopes, my dreams, my courage and my faith.