History Class, Uncategorized, Writing Inspiration

Writing Inspiration: Revisiting Memory

IMAG0471Childhood summers meant one thing: Up North.

Every summer, my family would pile into our car, carefully crammed with fishing poles, coolers, baseball caps and bug spray. As the youngest, I always had the middle back seat, with most of the items stashed under my feet.

Our destination was the house my great-grandpa built, tucked into the sweet-scented pine forests off the coast of Lake Superior.

We’d go up with my grandparents and visit my great-grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, and various other relatives who bleared together in my childish memory. Sometimes my cousins and aunts and uncles would all cram into the house with us or camp out in the yard. It was great fun, but numbers sometimes made things complicated, as my great- grandpa also dug the ‘sewer’, such as it was, himself.

Busy and messy, full of card games and mosquito bites and fishing and laughter, those sun-streaked days are some of my dearest memories.

As the years went on, our ‘Up North’ family dwindled- our losses, heaven’s gains.

The responsibilities of adulthood and moving out of state limited, then eliminated, my summer visits, until last year.

I was finally able to bring my children back to the old house last summer.

We stepped out of the car and I was a child again, ready to run through the ferns and forget-me-nots and to build tee-pees in the clearing.

Everything held a memory. The shriek of the bedsprings in the upstairs room that 2 (or was it all 3?) of the sisters who grew up in the house shared. The steep staircase that Grandma descended, holding the lilacs and daisies her sisters picked, to marry my Grandpa when he came home from the war. The birdhouse reserved for ‘Chippie,’ Grandpa’s semi-tame chipmunk. Great-Grandma’s old treadle sewing machine that mom taught me to use.

It was painful joy to play with my husband and children in the woods, to hike and throw rocks into the lake, to relive small moments of childhood memory, while knowing that things had changed irrevocably.

The things were still there, but the people were gone, their stories and laughter an echo in the past.

Still, though bittersweet, dusting off the memories and saying the names of people I missed allowed them, for a brief while, to walk again. Alive in memory.

One of the greatest treasures I discovered when I began serious research for my book was BBC’s “WW2 People’s War” archives.


From 2003-2006, BBC sent a call out to everyone who had memories from the wartime years. The memories were written down, sorted by category, and archived.

47,000 stories reside here. Memories of joys and sorrows and day to day life. Memories of soldiers, wives, children, doctors, ambulance drivers and teachers. Memories told first hand, and memories passed on by surviving children. Memories that take some patience to sort through, that may be distorted by the years between, but that give a better picture of the texture and flavor of the life of these people than the most carefully researched textbook.

I visited the archives frequently, hunting for memories that would illuminate my research. I would always end up reading through pages of unrelated material, entranced by the voices of people who lived history.

For anyone interested in this era, I can’t recommend a visit to this site highly enough.

Summer moves too quickly. Our family’s visit to the north woods ended, but the kids still talk about it, reliving memories of their own.

What memories fuel the stories you share?



5 thoughts on “Writing Inspiration: Revisiting Memory”

  1. I get to remember a summer at Lake Ole in minnesota with my family. My cousins posted pictures of the cabin at the lake and I was transported back to the dock I laid on to get my hair washed. Then the memory of my dad getting pinched by a HUGE crayfish after my brothers and cousins told me a story about a monster living in the lake…yeah…didn’t put a toe in the water again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh how beautiful! I have to take a break from catching up, and will return to your posts soon, but I love the imagery you create here with your past. I’ve no such past to call my own, but I know Bo feels many of these sensations whenever we go “up north” to his grandparents’ cabin.

    Exploring the memories of others is an excellent, tip, too, since the society norms and expectations of today are so, SOOOO vastly different from how they were in wartime, As Americans, we don’t appreciate the concept of “drafting,” of “rationing.” Excess and entitlement have been so embedded into our psyche that we don’t get what it means to put others first. It takes the lives of others, the way they speak, the way they took in life and shared what mattered to them, that helps us feel the reality of the past. Lovely post yet again, my friend. xxxxxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jean 🙂 It’s interesting too, talking about different values at different times- several sources talked about almost a sense of loss with the end of the war- things went back to ‘everyone for himself’ after the feeling of community and working together that presided during the more difficult times. Thanks always for your kind words 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, that’s so sad, Naptime. 😦 But you know, that explains why Alan Moore wrote WATCHMEN as he did–that the villain saw the only way to truly end global conflict was with war–only, this war was with a phantom intergalactic enemy.
        can’t wait to read more of your posts tomorrow! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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