Interrogating Memory

From 1963 through 1969, my parents and I lived in Oak Forest, Illinois, a southern suburb of Chicago. We’d come there from our farm in southeastern Illinois so my mother could teach the third grade in the Arbor Park School District, #145. As many of you who have read my memoirs know, my mother had…

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Releasing Yourself from the “I” in Memoir

It’s a snowy day here in central Ohio which has me thinking about the intricacies of the flakes. We all know that no two are alike, and so it is for the experiences we present in a memoir. Each moment has various aspects, angles, and patterns. Our hearts and minds convince us we’ve accurately recalled,…

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Using Relics in Narratives

Yesterday, my wife Cathy was sorting through her purse when she came upon her now-expired YMCA membership card. “I guess I don’t need this anymore,” she said. Indeed our membership cards are now relics of a before-time that no longer exists, that time when COVID had yet to arrive. During the pandemic, we bought our…

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The Scent of Peonies: Sensory Details and Memoir

Compared to a year ago, the world seems a bit more open. With COVID positivity rates dropping and mask mandates relaxing, a certain degree of normalcy is returning to our lives. I fear, though, that too many people think this signals the end of the pandemic, but, of course, it doesn’t. There’s still too much…

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A Memory of My Mother

In honor of all mothers on Mother’s Day, I offer this section from my new memoir, Gone the Hard Road.   On one of the last visits that I made to the nursing home when my mother still had language, she told a fantastic story about just getting back from Florida where she’d been at…

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To Say the Secret Things: Tips for Memoirists

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of swapping stories with a group of friends, maybe out on the patio on a summer’s evening, or back in the pre-pandemic days at a dinner party. Someone starts to tell a story and then hesitates and says something like, “I really shouldn’t be telling you this.” Maybe…

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Memoir and the Dangers of Nostalgia

It’s 1974, and I’m eighteen years old. I drive a slant-six Plymouth Duster, and I wear my hair long and my jeans tight. I hang out at John Piper’s pool hall, where I play the pinball machines. When the weather’s good, I play basketball on the schoolyard. My game has never been better. I’m young…

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Research and Resurrection: Writing the Dead

The peonies are late this year. Here we are, Memorial Day weekend, and the buds have yet to open. When I was a boy, my mother made arrangements from peonies and irises in coffee cans anchored with gravel in their bottoms, and we drove from country cemetery to country cemetery, leaving those flowers on the…

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What We Know, What We Don’t: Persona in Memoir

There’s a point in Sue William Silverman’s new memoir, How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences, where she’s writing about getting a phone call from her doctor, telling her she has an E. coli infection in her bladder. He prescribes the antibiotic, Macrobid. For Sue, who readily admits her hypochondria, the idea of taking the…

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The Artifacts of a Life

I have a small iron hammer, threaded at its end, that belonged to my father. Someone, although I don’t know who, made this hammer and threaded it to screw into the end of one of the hard plastic holsters where my father’s hooks usually fit. This way, my father, who’d lost both of his hands…

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