Lazy Days of Summer

Today’s memoir writing class focused on life before electronics, before we spent our evenings posted in front of the television set or game consoles. What did we DO before electronics? What were our summers like?

I had an unusual childhood, in that I never really watched television until 1965, having lived in France prior to that. My childhood evenings were spent playing games with my brothers, listening to classical music or show tunes on my parents’ “hi fi” stereo console, or reading. How we read! And that’s only after I was forced to come inside. I much preferred to be outside at the playground, riding my bike, rollerskating, or playing baseball or games of pretend with my friends.

Today we recalled what it was like to drift through the lazy days of summer. In my childhood, we’d get up early on a summer morning, shovel some cereal into our mouths, and take off for the unfenced outdoors, where groups of kids congealed and then launched into play for the day. At some point in the midday, we’d break off our games, holler to each other to “be back in 15” and dash off to get lunch, each at our separate homes, since we were typically too big a group to eat at one house. Then, it would be more play until dinner time, half an hour for dinner, and then back outside until it got too dark to see. On special nights, we were allowed to stay out after dark. That’s when the real fun began, especially Hide and Seek. Who can forget the primal fear of being hunted in the dark, and then dashing madly for the “base,” typically somewhere in a circle of light. Tag! No, free! I tagged you! Did not! FREE!

Our days were unscheduled, except for baseball or softball practice or games. There were no camps for us, no schedules to meet. We were told to stay out of trouble (which we managed to do for the most part) and set free. No one was bored. In fact, for me, there never seemed to be enough time to do everything I wanted to do. Well, pick-up baseball games could last an entire day, for one thing, and some of our world series lasted for a week or so.

For me, visions of heaven include the smell of freshly mowed lawns and summer evening barbecues. Images of heaven include my bare feet stained green by those mowed lawns, and my Dad standing at the barbecue, flipping burgers and hot dogs, Mom sitting nearby, relieved of kitchen duty and enjoying the company of Dad and friends. The best of times included evenings when our friends would come to eat and we’d stay in the backyard after dark. A community in the summer heat. Heaven.

What will my children remember of summer? I very much doubt that they’ll have the same sense of freedom, or of time standing still, of long, endless days of summer. In their lifetimes, summer was abridged to seven or eight weeks, not the three months we enjoyed. (And that was only because we didn’t make them go to summer school or camps, as some parents did.) As a consequence, I think the summers felt rushed. I wish I could have given them my summers, my moments of heaven. Perhaps they had their own moments. I’ll have to ask them.

Write Your Memoirs, At Least A Few

I continue to teach my Memoir Writing Workshops in San Diego, and each week I am struck anew by how important it is for each of us to write our memoirs. It doesn’t matter whether we write to publish, but we should write not to perish.

Our stories can be the greatest legacy we give to our children, or to those who come after us. No two people have the same story; it’s simply impossible. Each of us has been dropped into the river of time, within a family, within a legacy already written. We each then go on to form our own legacies, and that is the gift that we can give to others.

I am as guilty as most people who think, who cares? My kids won’t be interested. I’ll just be writing for myself. But when I listen to the stories in my classes, I realize the treasure being conveyed. Stories about the author, about the family that came before and the family that they joined. If not now, then later, these stories will be valued beyond the writer’s greatest expectations, because they will be a piece of the writer, a touch with what has passed.

My class members write about their first encounter with spouses, about moments of great childhood pain that imprinted the adult, and about people in the family long gone, bringing them, if only briefly, back into the flow of time, remembering that they existed and mattered for one moment. What more can any of us ask?

Take the time, as I vow to do, to write about your life. You don’t have to write chronologically. Just jump into a moment in your life and write. Whatever you put to “paper,” your family will enjoy. And if you never share it, at least you will relive the memory and the moment. You don’t have to write about the dark times, not if it’s still too painful. Write, instead, about a childhood triumph, even if it’s one only you know about or might remember. Or write about a fear that haunted, but was then overcome. Or about that game where you made the difference. This can be cathartic, but it can also be invigorating. Remember the you you used to be? Reclaim yourself, as you remember yourself. And live the you you once knew. I dare you!

The Writer’s Life

As I meet one deadline, writing for St. Mary’s Press, Catholic textbook publishers, I turn now to several other projects that I have lined up. I’m currently editing two academic books, one on Iranian Jewish women immigrants in Los Angeles, and another concerning the women’s plight during the Holocaust, both of which are riveting topics. I am also editing a series of mysteries that take place in the fashion industry of New York City. How’s that for diversity?

Cover for "Elder Care"

I am also delighted to announce two new publications. Dr. Alex Kodiath’s just-released “Elder Care: Precious Presence,” a book about the healing power of presence in dealing with the elderly and the dying. I edited the book for him. Maria Csanadi, a Hungarian immigrant, just published her memoirs of the family’s escape from Hungary in 1956, in a book entitled “Precious Legacy.” I worked with Maria for several years to help her write the book, and then edited it for her. She is delighted to have finished the book and have it to pass along to family, other immigrants, and any university departments that might be interested in first-hand history of that time.

Cover for "Precious Legacy"

Both books are available online, simply by searching for the titles or the authors in Google.

I enjoy the projects and cannot believe how fortunate I am to earn my living as a writer and editor. The long hours are easy to accept when the work is so diverse and entertaining.