family has them: stories of Great-Uncle Harold’s time in the trenches of WWI,
Grampa’s side trip into bootlegging during Prohibition, Aunt Helen’s wanderlust
that took her around the globe twice, Grandma’s ground-breaking work as the
first female at Lockheed Aeronautics during WWII. These are the stories that
may only get trotted out once a year or so, maybe at Christmas or the
infrequent family reunion, but otherwise stay hidden away in shoeboxes at the
back of closets or in the dimly-lit corners of an oldster’s mind.
My grandmother, Marcia Gates, reading to her four daughters.
often, the story and its teller are, eventually, lost for all time. Why?
Because the stories don’t get written down.
Mandinka proverb that says every time an old person dies, it’s as if a library
has burnt down.
lucky. My dad wrote his autobiography over the last 20 years of his life. After
he died, I converted the typed pages to digital, added family photos, and
published his story. I didn’t care if I sold a single copy; I just wanted the
book out there. Surprisingly, I have sold quite a few, but that’s not even the
point. The point is, his story will never die. It lives on. And I can’t tell
you what a treasure trove it is for my family.
So a few
years back on Veteran’s Day, I was thinking about my aunt who was an Army nurse
during WWII and was taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Philippines. I had
heard this much of the story all my life, but very few details. I began to do
some research to see if I could find out more about it; hard to do, as she and
all her generation are gone. I was shocked to find out that the Wisconsin
Historical Society (she was from WI) had in their possession two scrapbooks
that were created by my grandmother, filled to overflowing with letters,
telegrams, news clippings, and photos of my aunt’s time in the service. It not
only chronicled the events of her capture and imprisonment, it also told the
story of my grandmother’s tireless efforts to find out information about her
daughter and bring comfort in any way she could. It was a story of two women on
opposite sides of the earth, each in their own way striving to push through
extremely difficult times.
was stuck in a drawer in a back room.
the story deserved to be told. And I knew I was the only one to do it. There
are other writers in my family, but none that devote as much time to it as I
do. So even though I’m a novelist by choice, it was time for me to write
I did. Again, I didn’t care if the book sold at all; I just wanted the story
out there. Surprisingly, it has touched a lot of people, won awards, was even
featured in a TV documentary on Wisconsin’s military history. And it got me to
thinking: how many stories are there like this, that never get told, that never
see the light of day? A ton, I’m sure. And I think that most people believe
publishing is way beyond their reach, but here’s the irony. It’s not. It’s
fully accessible in our time. Okay, the writing part is never easy and that
still has to be done, but the publishing? That’s a breeze. Using CreateSpace,
you can do it for about $10, the cost of a proof book and shipping. Really, I
mean it. Ten bucks. Indies Unlimited has more than enough information and
tutorials in their archives to get you started.
encourage anyone — EVERYone — who has family stories to write them down. Get
them out there! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, as I was, how they can
touch people well beyond the confines of your family. Because these are not
just family stories.