Kristi Gott – Opening A Closet Full of Memories

It’s not an autobiography of the rich and famous, but it is my own life story, clutched in my arms, as I head into Life Story Writing class.

This week we focused on early childhood. What did our house look like when I was six years old? Who were the kids in the neighborhood? What were the family activities? It’s all written down, and the memories have been refreshed.

It’s a clear, October morning today. As I drove over to class I saw the sun shining on the Pacific ocean, next to our small town. A group of us visit for awhile on the steps of the Grover Beach Community Center before going inside.

After pushing the long tables together, end to end, there’s a bit of rearranging the chairs. Then we sit expectantly, and the conversation quiets. The instructor reads excerpts from life stories that have been published and from associated historical events.

It’s a good way to get warmed up, before starting to read our own stories. It’s nice to get comfortable with the group, visit a little bit, and have some mental preparation before it’s “showtime.”

Somebody says, “I want to go first, if it’s OK.” The rest, who might prefer NOT to go first, smile and nod.

There are some people who may hold back and go last. That’s fine too. After three hours of class we’re still listening intently to each other reading the true life stories. There’s always somebody else who has had similiar experiences, but in a different way.

Each week’s writing focuses on a specific time period, such as birth to elementary school. This is an Adult Emeritus class, so people in it are over 50 years old. It’s amazing how much people remember from childhood, a brief silly moment, an embarrassing event, or a happy time with kids in the neighborhood. The details can be so vivid. There’s too much to write it all down.

It’s like opening a closet stuffed so full that everything falls out when you open the door and lands in a heap. Boom. It’s a closet full of memories. You have to sort it out. Some things get rearranged.

A chronological approach seems to be the best way to organize the memories as they fall out of the closet. Lining them up by time, according to dates and years, straightens out the jumble and puts them each in a place. Winter, 1954. Summer, 1970.

Then the historical events of that time can be tied in to the story. Internet “on this day in history” sites can give you quick lists of events, trends, and costs. When you went on your first date, what was going on in the world and how much did a movie cost? What style clothing were people wearing? What were the music trends? What kind of cars were they driving?

People, stories, history. The class is over before we know it, and we go out into the noontime sunshine, smiling and waving good-by to each other for another week.

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