Yesterday I was treated to a major surprise. My mother has been talking for some time now about writing a ‘memoir’. She is in her 70s and because she was the only child of her generation who was living in the same country as her father when he passed away, she has most of the family photo albums. Several times over the years she has looked through the albums and worried aloud about how we’d know who is who in the photos if she wasn’t there to tell us. In October last year, my sister used a phone app (Photomyne) to start the process of taking digital photos of all the photos in the old albums, and then my mother would sit down and write captions for each one so that we’d know the ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ of each photo. It’s awesome. And of course, looking through all those old photos reminded my mother of so many memories. Unbeknownst to me, she started writing during lockdown. She wrote about her father and his parents and siblings. Silly memories, family stories that have been passed down that may or may not be true, any dates or important events she remembered and of course her own fondest recollections from her lifetime. Then she did the same for her mother and her mother’s parents and siblings. Then her own siblings. Then, house by house (because she found that the easiest way to break up the timeline) she wrote her own story.
Altogether she wrote 30,000 words, to which she added some excerpts from her mother’s journals, her own journals and a transcription of a tape recorded ‘letter’ to family back home by her uncle from the 1950s. She used Blurb to put the words into a book format, and then she added a selection of the digitised photos. She touched on painful subjects (like deaths and marriage breakups) but mostly focused on the things that she thought showed the essence of the family member and why they were who they were, and how that connects back to who myself and my sisters are. None of my extended family lived in New Zealand with us except one grandfather, so my siblings and I were somewhat isolated, especially in pre-internet days. She wanted to show us how we fit into that extended family and how our family helped shape us even if we didn’t know many of them. She didn’t tell me she’d even started writing until she put the actual printed book in my hands yesterday! Last I knew, she was still typing up her mother’s journals and scanning photos!