Tag Archives: Memoir

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT

Memoirist Lynne Hakes joins us today with her story of turning away from her family culture of prejudice and elitism. This is a story for today, as our world becomes more and more divided. When did you realize hate isn’t the answer?

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I grew up in a family of bigots. I was led to believe we WASPS were superior to other races, other beliefs, other anything. No one needed to act out to prove it because it was just true. The grown-ups sometimes used derogatory terms for the “others,” but not in public and not in anger. It was like saying,   “Of course white bread is the best.” We were taught to be kind to everyone, and rudeness was never tolerated.

My dad didn’t talk about race or social classes. He grew up on a small farm in Illinois where everyone was the same. His father, grandfather and other ancestors were Masons who, historically, had no use for Catholics or Blacks, but as a teenager he left the farm to escape asthma and moved to Southern California. There he blended in with the local culture.

Mother grew up in New Mexico and Southern California where there were Latinos but few Blacks. Her parents were nice people who treated everyone well, and I never heard any talk of other races in their home. But there was Aunt Inez, Grandad’s sister, who was an elitist and lived in a mansion in Beverly Hills. As little girls, Mother and her sister spent a lot of time with their aunt and learned bigotry first-hand.


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Aunt Inez grew up modestly in Kansas. But when her husband struck oil in Oklahoma in the 1920s and became a millionaire, they joined the “upper crust” in Southern California. Aunt Inez took on airs and lived up to the Hollywood stereotype of “rich people.” A self-absorbed woman with no children, she was close to my mother, her niece.

Superiority was one of Aunt Inez’s less endearing qualities. One should be kind to everyone, but one should know her superior place in the world. Mother and her sister were groomed to be bigots.

A critical review of the novel The Help

When I was a teenager, a black woman named Annie cleaned house for us. She was treated well in our home, but of course we knew she was “different.” I went to a small high school, where there were a few Latinos, but no blacks. We were a small, close-knit class in our sheltered little community. Racial bias never came up.

Until I was a freshman in college, the cleaning lady was the only black person I knew. There were a few on campus, but I didn’t have any contact with them until my philosophy teacher, Miss Rose, decided to give us alphabetically assigned seats in the large classroom. I was an “H” and right next to me was another “H” and she was black. We introduced ourselves and shared a common fear of taking a hard class like philosophy.

As the teacher took her place in front and we settled down, an imaginary bolt of lightning struck.

Next to me, chatting with me was a black girl. And it didn’t feel any different from being next to the white girl sitting on the other side. What was the big deal? We were two frightened freshmen, wondering how we would get through this class. How could I be better than she? I was puzzled. I admit to having some biases, but the one against race left me that day. It didn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense. Do any prejudices make sense? My life is richer for having friends and acquaintances of other races and cultures.

Thank you, my black classmate, wherever you are. I’m glad you were an “H.” And thank you, Miss Rose for giving us assigned seats and forcing me to face up to my training in bigotry.

         Global Educator Institute

Sorry, Mother, it didn’t work. I adjusted my attitude. No, I guess “H” adjusted it for me.

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Part 2: The Soda Canyon Store stood like a beacon at the bottom of the road.

 

Mary Jane Stevens continues Miracle at Soda Canyon, her harrowing tale of uncertainty and terror on the night the Atlas fire started.

…continued from March 14th—

Later, Bob would tell me his incredible tale of his experiences that night.

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mercurynews.com

Bob said he felt a little better that he knew they had been located, but they were still very much in danger.  The wind was loud, the sky dark and the smoke was suffocating. In the wee hours of the morning the wind buffeted his bare face, ears and hands when he got out of his truck.  He was anxious to get off the mountain.  When would help return?  Would help come in time?  Everything he saw proved his situation was grim. The black velvet sky was now clouded with smoke and sparkling with glowing embers, some very large, swirling in the howling wind. He prayed those embers would not land on a roof starting a fire that would create a chain reaction taking all the homes down. Ghostly clumps of smoldering scrub dotted the nightscape in the distant periphery, surrounding him like threatening wild animals ready to pounce and devour everything in their path.  An ominous orange glow at the horizon was the most terrifying sight of all.  Would the wind shift again and send the fire over the homes and directly toward Bob?

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tablascreek.typepad.com

Of the entire group of vehicles only three joined the convoy.  Bob wondered why there were only three.  A week later we found out at a party for fire survivors. Before he reached the evacuation area helicopters had evacuated all the people from the parked vehicles. They weren’t able to return to rescue the others because the high winds and smoke made it too dangerous to fly.  Only Bob and the occupants of the three other vehicles had been left behind.

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sodacanyon.org

Bob joined the end of the convoy.  He wanted to get off the mountain, out of harm’s way.  That involved driving through the edge of the fire.  Slowly, they worked their way down, swerving around the glowing detritus in the road  while trying to steer clear of burning branches at the shoulder.  Embers were flying through the air around the convoy.  He said it was a bone-chilling sight when at the steepest part of the road Bob looked out over the canyon and there was fire as far as he could see.  Below him, and on either side of the road, the inferno burned everything in its path.  It looked as if no structures remained standing.  He could see only blackened trees silhouetted against the orange of the hissing, spitting, undulating fire following the road.

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Everything was on fire or already burned.  Then he saw one structure still standing: the Soda Canyon Store, a beacon at the bottom of the road on the corner at Silverado Trail.

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Filed under Classes, Fire Season, Students

Blessings in Ashes

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“Fire Season” takes on new meaning in Sonoma and Napa Counties, California. Now a month after the night fires raged through our mountains and valleys, cities and vinyards, homesteads and housing complexes, people are telling their stories. 

Memoirist Lynn Hakes’ Napa neighborhood wasn’t evacuated or burned. They were some of the lucky ones, but the disaster didn’t leave anyone untouched. Here is her story. 

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Photograph Cathy Carsell October 9, 2017 Napa Valley

Blessings in Ashes

Lynne Hakes

Waking up to a red glow in the bedroom, I wondered what was happening. Was it the end of the world? Then I smelled it – smoke. Out of bed in a flash, I peeked outside and saw nothing. The radio! Maybe there’s something on the radio. The dreaded words shot through me like a bullet: “…fire in the Napa Valley.”

“Quick, grab your bathrobe.” I muttered to myself out loud. Flying down the stairs, tripping on the last step, turning on the TV, there it was. Crackling fire; embers flying everywhere. Announcer in a blue jacket standing in front of blazing pine trees. This was a big deal.

My husband followed, and we settled down to watch, he in his recliner and I on the couch. We were rapt, struggling to understand what we were seeing and hearing. No thoughts of coffee; no thoughts of breakfast, we sat there wide-eyed for the rest of the morning. Will it come to Napa? Should we be prepared to run?

Well, we should probably get ready. Grab the birth certificates and the passports. A few family pictures off the wall; the albums are too heavy. Address book, purse, phones, medications. Clothes? What do you wear to an evacuation? Is there gas in the vehicles?

Phone calls came from family and friends out of state. “We’re OK. We’ll call you if that changes.”

I don’t remember getting dressed or eating that morning. Longing to help in some way, we tore ourselves away from the TV and made the rounds of the shelters, offering to volunteer or bring food or water. We were too late; there were already enough people with offers of help. They turned us away.

Back at home we sat glued to the TV the rest of the day and into the evening. Again, the next day. And the next. We were safe. A few miles east, a few miles west, people lost everything. Why were we spared?

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As the days went by, gratitude replaced fear and anxiety. Gratitude for our safety; gratitude for the firefighters, the medics, the brave souls who worked together to warn, to help evacuate, to organize the shelters, to feed people. And compassion for those who lost homes, businesses and loved ones. Struggling to imagine their losses and their feelings, I knew I couldn’t come close.

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Hearing more and more stories of loss, my feelings of guilt crept in. Survivors’ guilt, they call it. What do I do with that? Are there lessons to be learned?  Be a little more tuned into people, their stories, their fears, their feelings from now on? Could more caring and compassion replace guilt?

Is it possible to find blessings in the ashes?

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Tell It Like It Was

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@memoirmusic

Why write it? Why illuminate your innermost self and risk potential pain of ridicule or criticism? You ask yourself this, over and over, even as you name your secret places, confess your transgressions, light up your dark desires.

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Thanks Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens

Perhaps you reveal your wild and strange garden because of that gnawing, burrowing inner gopher. You know the one—nibbling the tendrils of your memories and digging through your synapses in his blind foraging. You know the dark feeding will stop in the light of your pen.

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ramweb.org

 At first you write to expose the bully, the crazy parent, the mean sister, the pain-giver. That may be your catalyst, but will revealing trespasses against you trap the hungry rodents like a hunting cat, pouncing on those unseeing beasts, dragging them from the dark and laying them at your feet?

In the end the revelation is you.

images-5        Writing your memoirs? Creating a family legacy?

                      Looking to publish your story?

Join the Rianda House memoir writers:A forum for craft, critique and positive encouragement.

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This group welcomes beginning memoir writers as well as more experienced writers who wish to explore their lives through the written word, both creative non-fiction (memoir, personal narrative, essay, autobiography) and poetry. Writing craft is discussed in the group and writing topics are suggested. All participants are encouraged to share their work in class.

Mondays 3:00-5:00 at Rianda House 1475 Main St. St. Helena Free

#70755 (Pre-registration at Rianda House) Feb 6-May 22 (no class 4/10)

 

Resources:

http://namw.org

http://www.judithbarrington.com

http://shewritespress.com/

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Filed under Autobiographical Writing, Classes, Memoir, revision

PARIS

by Elizabeth Stokkebye

 

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Seventeen and in Paris on my own. My first encounter with the city of love and fortunate to stay with an aunt and uncle. Both being workaholics left me with oceans of time to explore. What I had in mind to see was the architecture; the art museums; the places that tourists went.

The air was springlike, mild and sunny, although I was spending my Christmas holiday away from my home in Denmark. This is the one time in my life I experienced pure freedom. I remember how my breathing felt different: effortless and silent but steady and consistent. It was a breathing devoid of depression and anxiety. I breathed without past or future and let the air be present.

Walking along grand boulevards beneath a blue sky sporting white clouds I felt a loving heart circulate blood through my veins. On my way past the many cafés lining the wide sidewalk my sway caught the attention of a street performer playing his violin. As I danced by him he let go of his instrument and started to sing Ne me quitte pas. I stopped, turned around, and listened to his chanson. Was he performing especially for me?images-3

My disposition was romantic and I was attracted to the situation. At the same time, I could hear my mother’s voice: “I’m so proud to have brought up a good girl!” I didn’t move. When he was done with the song, he waved me over. I was embarrassed and blushed but followed his hand. He grabbed mine and kissed it. I felt the touch of his soft lips. My skin everywhere reacted by turning prickly and my breathing became choppy.

“Ma Cherie,” he whispered.

All of a sudden my body felt heavy and I pulled away. Caught between wanting to leave and wanting to stay, I sat down on a bistro chair.

“Please, I need a minute,” I uttered.

“Bien sûr!”

He held his violin once again and with closed eyes he played the sweetest melody that could melt any tough disposition.

Paralyzed, I tried to think. Should I leave or should I stay? My sense of freedom had slowly vanished which made the decision so much harder. The guy was cute, romantic and talented.

A waiter came over asking me what I would like and I ordered a café au lait. As more people gathered around to listen to the pretty music, I started to relax. He didn’t sing again which made me feel special.

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With his violin case full of money and the crowd thinning out, he declared:

“La dernière chanson!”

From his slender body came Que je t’aime and I didn’t know where to look. My gaze fell on a young woman advancing hurriedly towards us and embodying a sense of pure joy. She stepped right up to my singer and kissed him on the mouth.

 

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