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"Five Steps to Turn Memories Into One-Page Memoirs"

By Shirley Brosius


All of us have stories to tell. God has placed us in specific places at specific times to rub shoulders with specific people. Our lives are interesting and of interest to others. I have interviewed hundreds of people to write feature stories for a city newspaper, and I’ve never yet met anyone who did not have an interesting story to tell.

This Tip Sheet offers a 5-step format to record your memories so that others will learn who you are and might be inspired by your values and beliefs. “Legacies are the footprints we leave behind . . . . “ writes Rachel Freed in Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies. Let’s leave a legacy for the next generation by sharing from our hearts.

My Story:

I grew up in a rural Pennsylvania Dutch community. My relatives were hard-working, loyal and plainspoken. They said what they meant and meant what they said.

The PA Dutch culture—and really the cultures of all who grew up when I did in the 1940s and 1950s—was much different from today. Life moved at a slower pace, and we were isolated from world events. We saw newsreels only if we went to the movies, which was a rare treat. My family had no television set until I was 9.

I want my grandchildren to know about that culture and those times. I want them to know something of my faith and values. So I’ve written Persons, Places and Things: Memories From the 1940s and 1950s That Molded My Life. The publication, which I had printed up locally, is composed of 90 one-page memoirs, snapshots of life you might call them, that include a scripture and a challenge for readers to draw from the person, place or thing that I’ve written about.

Memoirs in General:

A memoir is a true story as opposed to a made-up story. Now it’s true that we may not remember every detail about something that happened or every word spoken. A memoir is simply an expression of life as we remember it. Think Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. He wrote about what he remembered growing up Catholic in Ireland amidst poverty and a dysfunctional family. He tells of the sadness and trauma with such a touch of humor that readers love reading about it.

We might want to write a long essay or a book about our history as McCourt did. However, I found the thought of such a project overwhelming. That’s why I decided simply to write one page per subject. If you want to write your own story, page by page, just pick up a pen or sit own at your computer.

What shall we write about?

In Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach suggests drawing a map of the earliest neighborhood you remember. Label who lived there along with shops, parks and other places of interest.

Such an activity prompts your memory. For instance, in Persons, Places and Things I wrote about neighborhood places including a one-room school house and our church. I included interesting stories I heard about places, such as the rumor that Icabod Crane’s headless horsemen sat on the wall of an old mill foundation near my home.

I wrote about people, beginning with those in my immediate family. I tried to convey something of how they looked, their relationship to me and interesting tidbits about what they did.

I also listed interesting objects that I remembered seeing or using as a child, then wrote about them—double flannel blankets, butterchurns, wringer washers. I listed events that stood out in my memory: Halloween parties at our church, family reunions and visits to a county fair. Get out old photo albums and mementos to prime the pump of your mind.


1. Make a list of ten people you lived with, childhood friends or interesting adults that you remember from growing up (an eccentric neighbor, a favorite cousin or a favorite teacher).

2. Draw a map of the neighborhood where you grew up. Label houses, stores, schools, etc.

3. Make a list of ten objects that you found interesting (for instance, things that have gone out of date, such as phones with dials, cars without air conditioners, old toys).

4. Make a list of events from your childhood: holidays, fairs, reunions, accidents or injuries, illnesses, conflicts, traumatic experiences.

5. Now choose one of those persons, places, things or events to write about. Then go back and choose another, and another, and another . . . Make another list and keep on writing

To write a memoir, describe what you remember, using as many senses as possible. Describe about what you saw, what you heard, what you smelled or tasted or touched. Tell how it made you feel.


6. Add “My Message, Then” (at the top of the writing) – This describes what you took away from the experience at the time. Maybe something made you feel ashamed. Maybe something scared you.

7. Add a Title above the writing.

8. Add “My Response, Now” (at the end) – This is simply what you’ve learned from the experience now that you’re older and wiser. You might pose it as a question to challenge readers. For instance, after writing about my father as a veteran, I posed the question, “How might I express my appreciation to veterans for their sacrifices?”

9. Add an appropriate Bible verse, if scripture is an important part of your life. If you can’t think of any that are appropriate, think of a key word that you would like the verse to include and look it up in a Concordance. Visit http://www.blueletterbible.org/ for online helps.

10. Add a picture or draw an illustration to accompany the memoir.

11. Add a foreword (mine is a letter to my grandchildren) and an index if you have more 25 pages.

Turning memories into one-page memoirs is fun and good for the brain. You’ll learn something about yourself, and your family and friends will appreciate your efforts.

Three Excerpts from:
Persons, Places and Things: Memories From the 1940’s and 1950’s That Molded My Life
By Shirley Brosius


My Message, Then: Family loyalty overrides personal feelings.


Her face was as wrinkled as a sheet of paper smoothed out after being balled up in a sweaty fist. She was a small woman, gray hair pulled back in a bun. To me, Hettie was an enigma. She lived in two rooms, a large one with an outside entrance and a small one behind it, on the first floor of our farmhouse. She had a cook/coal stove for heating. Although her quarters opened into our kitchen, Hettie rarely darkened that door and always spoke Pennsylvania Dutch if she did.

Hettie was my widowed step-grandmother, but I never ever thought of her as "a relative." Why she lived with us, I'm not sure. Something seemed odd and stilted about Hettie's relationship with my parents. But they provided housing for her and eventually, when her chronic cough turned into an incapacitating illness, she moved to the county home.

Every other Sunday we would make the 80-mile round trip to Harrisburg to visit her. On the way home we always stopped at Sam's Ice Cream. A cone of butter pecan ice cream made up for our time in the sick ward, where I fidgeted while my parents visited.

My Response, Now: What family member needs my support?

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8


My Message,Then: Education is a high privilege.


Sometimes dogs or even turkeys chased my siblings as they walked a mile to school over a dirt country road. On occasion, they ran back home in fear and Daddy delivered them in his Model A Ford. He was the school "enumerator" or truant officer, so no one in our family played hooky.

Each school day began with Bible reading, the Lord's prayer, and a salute to the flag. Grade by grade, students were called to the front of the room for teaching while others worked on assignments. Students learned as they listened in on older classes. My sister Marie skipped a grade, a fairly common practice.

Students fetched water from a home a quarter-mile from the school by carrying a pail on a pole between them. The water was stored in a crock-like cooler with a spigot. Each student had his or her own cup. My brother Russell once had to write "The bell is my boss" 500 times for being tardy. My sister Ruth memorized "The Charge of the Light Brigade" for an infraction. They considered it an honor to clap erasers on Fridays. By the time I was six, my siblings were attending high school, so my parents sent me with them by bus to a neighboring school district with a typical elementary school.

My Response, Now: Am I taking advantage of educational opportunities before me, including those of my church?

My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad. Proverbs 23:15


My Message, Then: Actions produce consequences.


We knew nothing of fat grams or cholesterol in the days of my childhood. We melted butter in a black cast-iron skillet to fry eggs for breakfast. We smeared butter on corn on the cob and on bread, often homemade, which we enjoyed with every meal. We dropped chunks of butter in milk pies, desserts made from scraps of pie dough topped with milk and sugar.

The wooden butter churn, a round drum stabilized on its side by a base, was stored in our kitchen pantry. Once a week or so my mother would set it on the kitchen table, pour into the top of it a few quarts of cream, skimmed from the milk of our own cow, and start cranking. The crank on the outside turned paddles on the inside, which eventually churned the cream into chunks of butter.

I don't know what became of the butter churn. I suspect my mother sold it when during my teen years she needed money for household expenses and antique dealers became regular visitors. Like many other treasures that I took for granted, it simply vanished from my childhood.

My Response, Now: Will my words and deeds today produce sweet or sour consequences?

For as the churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife. Proverbs 30:33

Persons, Places and Things: Memories From the 1940s and 1950s That Molded My Life (a 100-page publication) is available for $15, postage included, by e-mailing Shirley your mailing address from her website, www.shirleybrosius.com.

1. Fill out a memory book.
2. Write your memories along with lessons learned in a notebook or a computer file.
3. Videotape your life story.
4. Place photos and stories in scrapbooks.
5. Place photos and stories on a DVD.
6. Write a letter to someone sharing your dreams and values for them.
7. Identify your passion, and then take a step to follow it.
8. Spearhead a cause.
9. Write down special recipes for family members
10. Give gifts that tell something about your ethnic legacy.
Other ideas heard in discussion:

What is one step you will take to pass on your legacy this week?

Questions to answer during a videotaping session:
1. State your name, address and today’s date.
2. Where and when were you born?
3. Who were your parents and siblings?
4. What is one of your earliest memories?
5. What chores did you do as a child?
6. What pets did you have?
7. How did you celebrate Christmas? Easter? Birthdays?
8. Where did you go to school?
9. Who was your favorite teacher? Why?
10. What games did you play as a child?
11. Where did your family take vacations?
12. What was life like where you grew up?
13. What was your favorite season? Why?
14. Where did you go on dates?
15. What was your earliest job? How much did it pay?
16. If married, how did you meet your spouse?
17. What else would you like to tell me?