Posted tagged ‘Life Story’

*Friends are……………..*

March 22, 2010

Generally speaking, life is good; very, very good, as a matter of fact. But “sometimes sadness is all there is”, a partial quote borrowed from Rick Bragg’s recently read memoirs entitled _ All Over but the Shoutin’_. Sadness overcame me during the month of February, 2010, for within a two week period, three long time friends passed away. One was a gentleman who had been part of a cluster of family friends dating back to the early 1960’s. The other two gentlemen were also long time friends, but even more crushing was that they were mates of two very close girl friends. Ouch!

These happenings stirred me to reflect on friendships over the years that have certainly helped bring richness to my life. Webster defines a friend as a person (or persons) whom we know well and are fond of; a close acquaintance; one who is helpful and reliable. I go on to add more personal definitions of a friend throughout the following passages.

“Friends always have a special place in the heart, have special understanding and are thoughtful; one who shares and cares”. Enter *Elaine. B*ack in 1962 she came into my, I should say our, lives with her husband and two young children around Jill’s age (then two years old). Our family and hers seemed to have so much in common: loved our kids, attended a newly-formed dance club in town, participated in church activities, hosted dinner parties, sun-bathed, picnicked on the beach; you name it. We moved to San Jose in 1964 after Harvey’s Cal Poly graduation, had our second child, Jodi, in 1965, relocated in Santa Maria and returned to Morro Bay in 1968, stepping right into our life of four years previous. Then things changed drastically for her and her husband (and, consequently for us too). They separated, reunited, separated again and finally divorced. A totally contented stay-at-home Mom was forced to plunge into what turned out to be a successful career, but not without some very difficult times that brought us even closer together. To this day, no matter the miles that separate us, we are able to continue right where we left off from the last contact. One of our very close long-time mutual friends is one whose companion of thirty years passed away in mid-February, as mentioned above. Our shoulders are there for her to lean on through this troubled time. After all, isn’t that what friends are for?

“It’s the friends we meet along life’s path who help us appreciate the journey.” Enter *Mary*, dating back to the late1960’s. We first met when a large group of stay-at-home Mom’s congregated at a neighborhood vacant lot to play volleyball three mornings a week after the kids were sent off to school; except for Jodi, who was still a preschooler. She became very adept at amusing herself along the sidelines during the games! An off-shoot of the volleyball group was our own Weigh-in Club, of which Mary was also a part. Any resemblance to the popular Weight Watchers meetings was purely coincidental, for we rushed into a member’s house, removed every article of clothing short of indecent exposure, hesitantly stood on the scales, cheered as though we had won a million dollar jackpot when we we would eek out even one-eighth of a pound loss from the previous week, reluctantly placed $1.00 into a kitty for every pound of weight gain, and hastily gathered around the table for, you guessed it, refreshments! I shudder to think of the collective number of pounds gained and lost over the period of the two or three years we went through the motions of dieting. No matter, we all have fond memories of that time in our lives.

The outgrowth of the weigh-in group was the formation of a Birthday group, if which Mary was a part. To this day, we gather to celebrate each of our six birthdays over lunch, we break our necks to find the best “You are special” cards and bring small token gifts to replace the lavish gifts we once exchanged.

It was Mary’s husband who became quite ill before this past Christmas, was whisked off to the Hospital Emergency several times, but was ultimately sent home to be surrounded by his family before losing his fight against lung disease in mid-February. Helping her get through one of the most difficult journeys of her life by listening, caring, and attempting to bring cheer, love and kindness to her has been, and will continue to be, my mission.

“Bestest” buddy. Favorite memories wrapped up in our friendship. Our paths crossed; forever grateful”. Those and similar phrases appear on greeting cards or face-to-face frequently from *Cindee*, a friend since the 1980’s, when our paths crossed at Morro Elementary. She was working as a clerical aide and I was teaching. Harvey and I had just started getting into bicycling and I encouraged her to venture out… and the rest is history for us. What adventures we’ve had! A couple credit-card bike touring trips with our husbands to San Diego, a week long Pedal the Peeks tour in Colorado to celebrate her 50^th birthday, a week’s tour looping around Idaho, Utah and Wyoming with another friend Maureen for starters. Cindee and I were also instrumental in organizing a group of six other Bike Club gals (named ourselves Wild Wacky Women) who were interested in loading our touring bikes with all the necessary gear for an annual four or five day camping trip, pedaling as far north as Carmel and down Highway #1 on one trip and south to Ventura and back on another trip. In the past two or three years, the Wild Wacky Women trips have been greatly reduced to a day ride, without packs, followed by a nice lunch, where we can catch-up with each other’ happenings. Cindee and I continue to bike as much as her full time job schedule will permit and we also are two of a Morro Elementary alumni group of six, self-named the *Sexy Six*. Who but ourselves would bestow that title upon us? Periodic get togethers keep our friendships alive and well.

Another group of seven Morro Elementary alumni, again self-named the *Nymphs, *also add dimension to my well-being. If laughter is good for the soul, and I truly believe it is, it’s no wonder that I have these “laugh lines” a.k.a. wrinkles as a result of our gatherings throughout each year. Truly a terrific group!

“You know, we are the luckiest people in the world to have a circle of friends who get together almost every Friday night for food and fellowship!” Truer words were never spoken than by one of our *T.G. * (short for Thank God It’s Friday) *Group* last Friday night as we were sitting around our dining room table; a fire blazing and several lively conversations swirling around over dessert and coffee. This group is comprised of nine people; three couples and three widows and for most of us, dates back to the early 1980’s. The idea was born while we were all still working and looking forward to unwinding at the end of the work week. We are all retired now, but still look forward to getting together almost every Friday night at someone’s house to unwind, as some of us lead almost as busy a life as we did before retirement. We’ve been there for each of our widowed friends, one whose husband passed away in 1996 and the other two who lost their husbands in 2002. But we’ve also shared many happy times. Our relationships are even further strengthened through involvement in organizational and fitness activities.

“Friends always seem to go out of their way to make other people feel special”. This statement certainly holds true with the *San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club*. The Club’s mission statement is to promote safe and legal bicycle riding for recreation and transportation. But in all the years I have been involved in the Club, I have witnessed a much broader unwritten mission; that of being there for our members in times of need, whether it be a death, a major injury, a surgery, an illness, an accomplishment or any reason to make someone feel special. Connecting with members through choices of daily organized rides, special rides, lunches, bi-annual potlucks and volunteering for our big fund-raiser rides helps build friendships. Gatherings with a small intimate group is an added plus!

“Friends are fun, fantastic, fabulous, warmhearted, free-spirited, amazing, amusing, extra-special, super sensational…. and a whole lot more!” This message came to me in 2008 from a wonderful eighty-six year old gentleman, Walter, who was one of the participants on my *2003 Cross Country* bicycle trip. He passed away last year, but this was exactly the same feeling I had for him and the other cyclists on that trip, particularly Elizabeth, my roommate; Daniel, my riding buddy, Steve, Bob and Peter (who succumbed to a heart attack last October).

“A Friend is one who listens and cares”. Relatively speaking, the *Life Story class members *are the “new kids on the block” of acquaintances for me. For two and one-half sessions, I have had the privilege of listening to a member who has shared about her growing up in Hollywood (a sharp contrast to my early years on an Iowa farm), the trials and tribulations of traveling cross country with toddler twins in a Volkswagen bus, the wife’s exacting memoirs of a husband who unfortunately was unable to write his own story, a daughter who has patiently, but happily, recorded dictated stories of her mother’s life, the on-going debate of whether the toilet paper should roll over or under the roll; to name just a few of the heartfelt interesting readings that I have had the privilege of listening to each week.

Sadness *had *overcome me when I started to labor over this segment but by the time I finished, I took to heart the belief that friends have a gift for seeing the sunny side of things. They have a natural enthusiasm for living that flows out to warm the hearts of those around you. My heart has indeed been warmed through the many friendships over the years. Hopefully your heart has been warmed in the same way!

Joan Petersen


Country Bumpkin Goes To Town by Arnie Dowdy

September 30, 2008




May 18, 2008

Country Bumpkin Goes to Town

  Looking back it seems like the experience should have affected me more. But my memory says that it didn’t.

It was 1955 and my family had decided to move from rural Kentucky to Los Angeles, California. We had been living in Milburn, Kentucky, population about four hundred. You might have needed to count the people in the cemetery to get up to that number. Milburn was a bucolic, idyllic sort of town. It was situated in Carlisle County which is located in the western end of the state.

The town wasn’t much, and really never had been. It was kept alive in the most part by the farming community that surrounded it. Almost all of the town was built along a curving, winding road that was a part of a state highway. The road only had two intersections. One went past our house and dead ended, pardon the pun, at the cemetery. The other led down to the school and continued on as a gravel road to some of the more remote farm areas.

There wasn’t much in the way of businesses. There was a Post Office, a Masonic Lodge, one small “belly up to the counter diner”, a barber, two small groceries and one general store. The diner was where I sometimes ate lunch. It cost a quarter. I could get a chili dog, an RC cola, and a bag of peanuts. You put the peanuts down the top of the bottle of soda and drank through them finally eating the peanuts when the cola was done.

There were two small grocery stores. One was called Crider’s and we never shopped much there. The other was Roy Evan’s Grocery. We lived down the lane from the Roy Evans family so our shopping dollars were mostly spent there. The owner was called “Mr. Roy” by everyone in the community. Most everyone was indebted to him as he allowed the whole community to buy on credit. Cash money was not always available. Visiting Mr. Roy’s store on the way home from school was always good, especially if you had a nickel burning a hole in your pocket. He also had newspapers for sale and I enjoyed glancing at the headlines to know of the latest world events.

Mr. Roy’s store was also one of the first places we checked out on November 1st each year. It was tradition that the young men would disassemble a wagon on Halloween night as a prank. It would then be reassembled on top of Mr. Roy’s grocery. As kids we loved it and never thought once about how it would come down. We just trusted that it would happen.

The general store was the most interesting place in town. It was run by an elderly man named D P Sanford. The store had been in his family for some years. It was an interesting eclectic collection of items to purchase. If what you wanted wasn’t on display, all you had to do was ask Mr. Sanford and it was likely he had it had it in the upstairs storage.

D P Sanford’s general store had one thing that no one else had. It was the only store with a real candy counter within ten miles. The sweet treasures located behind the glass at that candy counter tempted us every day. It was also in that counter that I discovered baseball cards. For a penny I could get not only a piece of gum, but a cardboard representation of a baseball player. These small pieces of cardboard thrilled the imagination of the young boys who bought and traded them. If I could get a player from my favorite team I was ecstatic for a week.

Alas! The candy counter has one horrible memory for me. One day after school as I was peering through the glass trying to decide what treat my penny should bring me, I threw up. I was so embarrassed. It was some bad sour kraut that I had eaten. Mr. Sanford tried to assure me that it was ok but I do admit that it took a few days before I was able to go back into his store. I also haven’t eaten sour kraut since.

Milburn had a collection of churches of varying protestant denominations. We didn’t discriminate. Each summer my brother and I attended each one’s vacation bible schools. It was just about the only entertainment available. We went just to have fun.

The school was located about mid ways along the curving state highway. Buses brought in all the students from the farms. My brother and I simply had to walk. There were a few crumbling sidewalks that had been constructed as a WPA project in the 1930’s. We walked past all of the homes, most of them starting to move towards varying states of decay. Most of the homes seemed to be occupied by elderly widows, no doubt waiting to join their spouse down past our house at the end of Cemetery Road. I loved these ladies; they were my best customers.

My enterprise as a young man getting ready to face his teens was that of a garden seed salesman. I had answered an ad from the back of a comic book and became affiliated with a seed company. They mailed me the seeds, I sold them and mailed in the money. Then they sent me whatever prize I had requested such as a baseball glove or a basket ball. Each year these widow ladies would wait to buy their seeds until I had visited with my selections. I wondered where they would get their seeds when I moved to California.

The walk to school each day was accompanied by our dog Trixie. She would walk with us as far as school and then turn around and go home once she knew we were safely there. The amazing thing was that she would come back to school in the afternoon to pick us up for the return journey. I know it sounds crazy, but that is what happened. My seed customer ladies would call out to each other that it was time for school to be out as they had seen the Dowdy boys dog heading that way.

Milburn school had students from all twelve grades. There were four rooms downstairs each holding two classes who were taught by one teacher. The upstairs, forbidden to us lower level students, was the high school. It always had an air of mystery. Every now and then we would get invited to come upstairs and purchase a treat for recess. I never was able to attend classes upstairs as we moved after my seventh grade year.

Milburn school also had one other building, much newer than the school itself. It was the basketball gym. Basketball in Kentucky is sort of a religion. Our team was the Milburn High School Blue Devils. Each year they would have tournaments at the grade level. First grade would play second grade and so on. I am convinced it was a way to find out which kids would be able to play on the high school team in later years.

Most of my Milburn school life was an experience of joy. There were a couple of exceptions that come to mind.

The first involved the game of marbles. The normal game for boys was called “for keeps”. You drew a circle around yours and your opponents marbles and you tried to knock them out side of the ring. If you knocked it out you got to keep the marble. Every boy traveled daily with his sack of marbles. I was no exception and considered myself a pretty good marble player. That is until I met up with an older boy. It was on a trip to the bathroom. An older boy, was also in the bathroom. He asked if I wanted to play marbles “for keeps”. Of course I did. A big mistake as it not too long afterwards I returned to my class with my marble sack almost empty. It was a difficult lesson to learn.

The second bad experience involved our high school basketball star, Sonny Fristoe. Sonny had caught me in the bathroom having a smoke with my buddies. All of us being raised in tobacco country thought nothing of trying out the commodity each time we could snitch some from our fathers. Sonny told me he was going to tell my parents. I was scared to death. To make matters worse Sonny worked in the grocery store in Mayfield where we went on Friday night to buy our provisions. Every time we went he would make my evening miserable. He was a stock boy there and he would peer around the end of the counter and hold up two fingers to his lips as if smoking. He would then point to me. I hated Sonny Fristoe. Maybe one of the reasons I was so happy to go to California was to get away from Sonny Fristoe.

A couple of years ago while visiting with my family in Kentucky I was driving back from Mayfield. Along the side of the road, I notice a sign that said Sonny Fristoes Truck Stop and Convenience Store”. It had to be him. It was just too much of a coincidence. Once inside the store I looked around to see if I could possibly recognize Sonny. There he was behind the counter. He asked if I needed help. I told him that he probably did not remember me, but that I had remembered him all my life. I explained how I had hated him because of what he had threatened to do to me. I also told him that I had now forgiven him. He was in a bit of shock, to say the least. Suddenly another couple standing near by started to laugh. It was Sonny’s daughter and son-in-law. They did so much enjoy seeing his discomfort. With a wave and a laugh I was out the door never to be troubled with the memory of Sonny again.

Gary Simms – The Dollar Watch

October 25, 2007

“Come on boys, let’s go out and hoe the beans,” our dad called to us three boys.  We had never hoed beans before.  So my two older brothers and I, dressed only in a pair of overalls, a shirt and a straw hat, followed dad with our hoes to the bean field on our small eight acre farm a mile and a half southeast of Ceres, California.  There he showed us that we not only had to hoe the weeds, but also had to chop out enough bean plants to space the remaining plants about ten inches to a foot apart.  We each took a row of beans and started hoeing. 

In the early morning, cool, damp summer air, we could smell the dew on the bean plants and on the  trees on our irrigation ditch bank behind us.  There was no way we could keep up with dad, as he was really moving with his hoe, but not for long.  He stopped suddenly, got a thoughtful look on his face and said, “I just remembered that I have to call Mr. Cooper about a wiring job.”

He left the three of us and took off for the house.  We had been through that justification before.  He may have made a phone call, but if we were to check on him, which we had sneaked and done in the past, we would find him sitting at the kitchen table eating a dish of his home made ice cream, while the three of us boys were out in the bean field slowly hoeing.

As the sun rose higher and the day got hotter, we kept a close watch to the location of our shadow.  None of us had a watch, so we had to depend on the sun to let us know when to quit and go to lunch.  I stopped and stood my hoe handle as vertical as I could, and then we all looked at the shadow, and discussed whether it was noon or not.  As the time got closer to noon, one of us would stop and shadow his hoe handle every so often. 

Actually we got pretty good at telling time with our hoe handle.  Now you probably think this story is about hoeing beans, but it isn’t.  It’s about telling time.

As a kid, I always dreamed of having a watch of my very own.  I did  have a broken alarm clock, that I would take apart and put back together again.  I liked to watch the gears turn.  Even though the clock didn’t run, it was one of my favorite toys. 

We had a neighbor that was a watch repairman.  He also had a cow and a few other farm animals.  One day his cow got out, and I saw the situation and herded his cow back into it’s pen.  The man found out what I had done, and promised me a watch. 

I hadn’t expected him to give me anything for getting his cow in, but that sure sounded good to me. It wasn’t long until I realized that the man wasn’t going to give me a watch.  Him saying that he was going to give me a watch, was just his way of saying, “thanks” and that was the end of it.

Then one day someone had a dollar watch that had quit running and he asked me if I wanted it.  Boy, was I happy.  I took the watch apart, cleaned, oiled and reassembled it.  To my surprise it ran and kept good time.  I now proudly had a pocket watch of my very own.  I carried that dollar watch in my pocket all through High School.

Then when I joined the army during WWII, I still carried that watch.  Our outfit ended up on Oahu, Hawaii.  One day near the end of the war, we were driven to the beach on the north side of the island to go swimming.  While we were enjoying a swim in the warm ocean water, someone went through the building where our clothes were, and took all the watches.  They even took my Dollar Watch.  I know that watch wasn’t worth very much, but I sure hated to lose it.

Since Uncle Sam was paying me $54 a month, plus providing my room and board, to sleep on an army cot with a mosquito net over it, in a five man tent, and eat army grub, I now had money and could afford to buy a watch to replace the old dollar watch.  I bought a very attractive gold colored wrist watch.  It didn’t keep time as well as the old dollar watch and didn’t last as long or tick as loud either. 

I now have a cheap digital watch that is very quiet and far more accurate, as it only gains about a minute in six months.  And you know, I kind of miss the gears and the ticking of the old watches.

Shirley Ann (Patterson) McClure – School Days

October 12, 2007


When I first went to school it was in the country school and only had about 4 rooms and one inside bathroom. That is what I remember. I remember the long lines to use the bathroom. I was very nervous at school and scared at first. I did have my brothers and sisters there so that helped me. I was happy to be going as my brothers and sisters were going and I did not want to stay at home. I was quiet and got along fine with my classmates. I went to a public school. We had to walk when we went in the country and it was a couple of miles. My mother did not drive and my father left early for work.

We moved when I was 7 so I did not go to that school long at all. Then when we moved to the small town called Wyandotte, the school was just a few blocks from our house. We used to come home for lunch everyday. I went to McKinley Grade School until I got to 7th grade. Then to Lincoln Jr. High and then Roosevelt High. They were all not far to walk to and that is how I got there. I made lots of friends and was not as afraid as the school in the country. I made friends with Arlene Reifsnider and we were friends all through high school. She just lived one block from me. Sometime I would get a candy bar on the way home from school. My mom did not have much money so we did not eat in the cafeteria at all. She always had a hot lunch waiting for us when we got home. Arlene and I were both in our weddings and were godparents for our children. We have stayed in contact with each other to this day.

I loved math and did not like to read at all. I have since changed that and now love to read. I also took cooking and sewing in high school. I loved cooking but did not care for sewing at all. Maybe that is why I ended up as the head in the cafeteria in the schools near us in Oak Park.

I always wanted a bike to ride. One day there was a second hand one for sale near our house. I went to look at it and brought it home for my parents to see it. They got it for me and made me so happy. I loved to ride my bike and feel the wind in my face and hair. My friends and I use to ride our bikes all the time. One day I got in trouble for not coming home on time for dinner. It was because I was so busy riding my bike I did not look at the time. I never did that again. My mom scolded me and had the dishes waiting to dry when I got home. She was very strict on getting home for dinner and doing your chores. The present I remember most was my doll with the hair. I thought she was the best and my fur coaat.

I never got a really bad report card but sometimes my Dad would say that I could do better than that. My Dad and Mom and I got along very well. I had respect for them and they had respect for me. They taught us the rules and how to live a good honest life. I lived by them and still do. We did not attend church but God was there with us. I would say both my parents were an influence on who I am today.

We would eat our dinner all together at the kitchen table. We all would talk about our day and my Dad would talk about things in his life we never heard before. I would love to get him talking and set and listen for a long time after dinnertime. Everyone else would be gone already. We all took turns doing the dishes and you better be there to do them or you were told about it. On Sunday my mom would usually make a pot of chicken and have home made biscuits and they would eat early and we could help our self when we wanted to. We usually went to the movies and we came back at different times. She did not want a schedule on Sunday. Mom and Dad would sit and read the paper from cover to cover. They might have someone stop by and visit or my Dad would take my mom for a ride. She loved to get out, as she did not drive. They might stop for ice cream somewhere.

I also remember my mom taking me out of school one day to go up town with her. Not sure if I needed shoes or what but she got me a pair of skates. I see myself putting the skates on with the little key and putting that key around my neck. She also got me a Hershey candy bar and away I went eating the candy bar and skating. I loved to skate and did a lot of it. We use to play cards a lot and did puzzles. Uncle Wiggle was a favorite game and Chinese checkers and regular checkers. My brothers and I played marbles and knife all the time on the front lawn.

I was very thin growing up and I had a neighbor boy that use to ask me if I had a tape worm. My mom used to have to take in all my clothes that we bought, as I was so small.
I also was a very picky eater. I wore dresses most of the time and my mom use to make some of my cloths. I was shy.

We had a dog name lady and had a cat that had many litters. The dog was a mixed terrier and the cat was just a stray but my mom liked her. We had birds and gold fish also. I got along with my family most of the time. My mother would say we fight more than any other family she knew. But it was all in fun. I would play baseball with my brothers but that is about all the sports I did. We had fun playing in the alley and had friends join us. We never seemed to want for things to do. We all had our chores and we took turns with them. From dishes, racking leaves, shoveling snow and cutting the grass. I did not mind doing any of them.

I started working at the local dime store when I was 14 and stayed there till my senior year and then worked at a credit union in town as a teller. Liked both of the jobs. I loved Christmas the most. Loved the lights, food, and of course the gifts.Family getting together was very important. Our house would be open the weeks between Christmas and new years and you never knew who would show up to visit.There was family all around the town to come and visit.

Kristi Gott – Opening A Closet Full of Memories

October 11, 2007

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.

Kristi Gott – Writing Life Stories Is A Trend Today

October 11, 2007

Is telling our life stories a way of becoming more comfortable with our memories? Could it be a way to organize the jumbled pile that sits in disarray at the back of the mind?

Telling life stories has been a part of human culture since people sat around the fireside in a cave and drew illustrations on the walls. Now we can sit around a table to share our life stories and pass around photos or even show life story videos.

Putting together the pieces of our lives into one mosaic is part of telling a life story. Starting with birth, a chronological narrative that moves from year to year takes the pieces and builds a picture.

Adventure, laughter, drama – they’re all part of your life story, whether you are a quiet homebody or a celebrity. The characteristics of a classic novel with a hero exist in the story of your everyday living. Your struggles against the world, other people, or yourself, create the plot. Your strengths and “fatal flaws” can make your character complex instead of one sided.


This week my Cuesta College Adult Emeritus Life Story Writing class met for the fourth time this Fall. We sit at several rectangular tables pushed together at the ends to form one long table, and each of us reads at least two pages of our life stories.

The class is held at the Grover Beach Community Center, and it begins at 9:30 am and goes until 12:30 pm, with a breaktime in the middle. Anthropologist Myla Colllier, who has taught at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo and Cuesta Community College, is the instructor.

After each person’s weekly life story reading, Myla and the class discuss interesting aspects of the story excerpt. This often includes related historical events which may have been associated with events in the story. For instance, someone who moved to California from the dustbowl during the 1930’s would have experienced the Depression.

As we read the material we’ve written for this week there is laughter, and sometimes there are tears. There is humor, there is tragedy. The nonjudgmental aspect and the privacy of the class helps us to keep our writing real. Historical events, trends, and styles are woven into the life stories.


Reflecting on the popularity of life history and personal narrative writing today led me to consider the following question.

What does it mean when people pursue opposites? Two trends today seem contradictory. We see more personal narratives told through life stories, journals, and personal blogs than ever. Books based on life stories have been topping The New York Times Bestseller Lists. At the same time, we spend more time around machines and technology. As life has become more technological, we have become more personal as if to find a balance. Being more modern might be causing us to do more old fashioned storytelling.

This week the top 16 books on the New York Times Bestseller List include 7 personal narratives, and 4 books that are biographical. It’s not necessary today to be a celebrity to write a bestseller, and everyday people writing about their struggles and dreams can appear on the list. “Louder Than Words, A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism,” by Jenny McCarthy, is listed as number four this week on the bestseller list.


Sharing personal details of our life stories is common these days, although many of us still remember when our personal lives were kept private. A greater tolerance and a less judgmental attitude means we feel more comfortable about being open than we did before.

Telling a life story can sometimes be like opening the door to the storage closet. You have to dodge the tumbling heap that bursts out and then try to sort through it. Could it be that we are straightening our mental filing systems, and rearranging the facts in our minds? Perhaps it’s a little like giving the house a good spring cleaning, opening all the windows, rearranging the furniture, and redecorating. It can be very refreshing.

At the Hallmark Pressroom an article titled “Journal Writing Increases in Importance” predicts this will be “a banner year for diaries and journaling.” Hallmark offers 75 different journals, and an estimated 12 million journals are sold a year in the U.S.. Writing down thoughts, feelings, and details of our lives is described by Hallmark as part of a personal writing trend today. Some life stories are written with organized facts and others are streams of consciousness.


Being able to look back at ourselves in a life story from the perspective of a later time helps us to see ourselves as others might see us. We can objectively learn from mistakes, and make plans for the future.

Events that were once painful may be seen from a distance of decades as softened by time. Humorous situations can gain additional comedy with retelling.

As the writers share funny moments with each other the laughter in my Life Story Writing class frequently continues as we end each session and stroll out to our cars.