Today, it is easier than ever to record our lives. We have cellphone cameras and email, we have Facebook. But without some sort of structure, all that information is just millions of pixels in search of a story. Somewhere, scattered throughout the hard drives of her children and grandchildren, are pictures of a grandmother. Other pictures, printed pictures, are stored in someone’s basement. They are easy enough to access, but wedged among thousands of other photographs, they somehow lose their meaning.
And what about the stories? The story of her fourth grade spelling bee (she won), stored in her memory banks, or that of the way she would clear stray worms off the road after a rainstorm, stored in the memory of her childhood friend. Everyone knows where she was born and the day she was married, but how many of her grandchildren will know about the time she screamed herself hoarse watching Elvis Presley on television? Maybe if it’s in a book, perhaps accompanied by an illustration of Elvis himself (because how many of her grandchildren will even know who he was?), it’s there, on the shelf, for everyone to look at and better understand Grandma’s life and, by extension, their family history.
Sometimes the story is more chronologically condensed, but equally rich. It might be a couple’s six month trip around the world, taken after their last child graduated from high school; it could be a humorous walk through the high school senior’s early years, including a litany of firsts: word; day at school; basketball game; first date (during which the nervous couple was interrupted, mid-kiss, by Dad, coming to pick them up at the movies).
Maybe the idea of an eight year-old’s memoir sounds far-fetched, but to the family, to whom every milestone meant a life change, their child’s early life could fill volumes, if only so all those sweet and exasperating moments are not forgotten.
What’s in a book? A grandparent’s immigrant experience, a wife’s remembrances of her family’s holiday traditions, every fishing trip a father took with his son. It can be ten pages or thirty, illustrated with photographs or sketches or a combination of both. There could be a single, unique copy, or enough for every member of the family.