Thursday, February 28, 2008

Whiskey Bottles and Spittoons

Yesterday was week two of the Memoir Project in Mattapan. We had 28 seniors, eighteen in one room and ten in the other. 

In this class, the idea is to get the seniors to write as much as possible. We give them notebooks and pens and then offer up prompts. And then I wander the room and help them get started. Some people get stuck when asked to write about themselves.

Then we ask them to share, which for me is the best part. The first prompt of the day was to write about an object from your childhood home. Could be anything. They were to describe the object first and then zoom out to tell the story behind it.

Some highlights:

One man stood up and talked about how his mother used to make carrot marmalade. No one else had ever heard of it. He said, if you can find it, please send me some.

One woman wrote about an old Essex car that was her family's car and how they would squeeze ten people into it to drive around on Sundays. Every adult had a child on his or her lap and they would put stools on the floor of the back seat for a child to sit on.

One man wrote about collecting whisky bottles to give to the drug store because they would be recycled and used to store turpentine. He would get a penny for each bottle, and if he found five, the drug store owner would give him a nickel, "Which was a lot of money," he said. Then one day the boy got ambitious and went out and collected a whole sack of those bottles. He loaded them into his wagon and brought them to the store, but the store owner wanted to pay him a nickel for the whole bag. So he sold the guy two bottles for two cents and took the rest home where he stored them under the porch. That same day, the landlord came to collect the rent. While the boy's grandmother went off to get the rent, the landlord looked under the porch and found the sack of bottles. When the grandmother came back the landlord backed away, saying, "I'm sorry ma'am. I didn't know you had a problem." When the grandmother looked under the porch, well, said the guy in class. "I couldn't sit down for a week."

One woman wrote about her mother being a personal maid, a lady's maid, to a wealthy woman in Bermuda. She said the rich family her mother worked for had their own carriage, their own boat. They had a room in their house just for shoes. And in the summer, the family would move off to their summer home and her family could live in the giant house and take care of it.

Another woman wrote about going to see a movie about Anne Frank and being so inspired that she decided to keep her own journal. She didn't have a real diary, or even a notebook, so she stitched together pieces of paper into a makeshift notebook and kept track of the comings and goings of family members. It kept her sane during some very turbulent early years of her life.

One man wrote about his grandparents and the spittoons they had in every room. He said his grandmother could hit that spittoon from any point in the room, dead on. On one occasion his grandfather sent the boy off to get his pipe. When the boy returned with both the corn cob pipes he found on a dresser, the grandfather took one and rejected the other, saying, "That's your grandma's pipe."

THE EXERCISE: Write about an object from your childhood or your home. First, describe the object, then tell the story behind it. It can be an object that was of great importance to any member of your family or an object that you associate with someone else.

1 comment:

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