A friend can tell you things you don’t want to tell yourself ~ Frances Ward Weller

Friendship isn’t one big thing. It’s a million little things ~ Anonymous.

Friendship is built on mutual respect and trust ~ Stieg Larsson

Strangers at first, we built a friendship word by word. Words we spoke and words we wrote. We learned about ourselves and each other over decades of sharing ideas, personal memories, and experiences. It did not happen immediately. It took time to build our relationship, a bond of trust. There were four of us, Sally, Linda, Jackie, and me, at the core of our writers’ group that lasted years. A few others joined for a brief time and left for a variety of reasons. The group has now run its course, but the friendship endures. Over the years we had many dinners, lunches, and breakfasts together. We shared millions of gut-busting laughs and quite a few tears. We had overnights and out-of-town trips together. We slept on the floor next to each other. We shared beds in unfamiliar cities. We explored cities, towns, and countries, attended workshops, and took classes together. The tapestry of respect and love is tightly woven thread by thread.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about a memory I have of a dinner celebration the three of us, Sally, Linda, and I, had together. We went to a restaurant and in the parking lot we found a token of kindness hanging from a tree, Ben’s Bells. I wrote that I retrieved the token from the tree and had it hanging above my desk as a reminder of that time together. Sally later reminded me that it was she who retrieved the bell from the tree and had it in her studio at home. The next week she gave each of us, Linda and me, a ceramic token in remembrance of that date. The token that hangs above my desk is even more precious to me because Sally wanted us to keep that memory as she did.

I have a great memory for experiences, but I do not necessarily get all the details right. I remember the sensory aspects, the emotions, like pictures in my head that can be easily misplaced in time and space. My husband and children often correct me when I tell a story. Yes, the event or experience happened but it happened in a different place at a different time. I’ve gone to other relatives to corroborate some of my earliest memories. I’m so happy to have witnesses to my life, but it does not preclude my enjoying memories in my own way.

Sally, being the chronicler of our group – she has a scrapbook of all our escapades and calendars kept over time – is the go-to person whenever I want to authenticate a memory. I love that about her. I treasure her ability and willingness to keep things straight. She knows me and laughed when she read the post, then reminded me of the facts. Thank you, Sally, for being my tolerant friend.

Truth and Facts

Today I read a moving blog post about a friendship. The author wrote about her friend with the truth of memory, not necessarily the facts.  Raising the Dead ‹ BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog ‹ Reader —  I read another insightful blog post about current political turmoil in France. Out My Window ‹ Reader — Somehow those two posts melded, although completely different in intent, and made me think about my reality and my memories.

To me facts are incontrovertible, they may be proven false later, but they are the concrete reality that can be proven at this point in time. Facts are objective, the absolute of what we know now through all our senses. Truth is subjective. It is the reality of facts filtered through our experience. We are all human and, as humans, subject to our own prejudices and emotional knowledge. Truth is facts of the heart, our day-to-day understanding of what is going on around us. As memoir writers it is important, on your journey to the truth, not to let facts be stumbling stones. While facts may be important they are not the sum total of the experience or the lessons you learn along the way.

I have a friend, a brilliant sculptor, who exhibits regularly at art shows around the country. I’ve watched her, in an hour or two, turn big lumps of clay into miniature animals – wolves, horses – so realistic that you expect them to move toward you at any moment. A magical experience. Many years ago, I traveled with her to an art exhibition in Montana that included her work. During our time there meeting artists and enjoying the art world, we had an on-and-off weeklong discussion on religion. What is the soul, what is spirit, can God be proven, etc? The discussion continued as we packed up and left Great Falls. I was driving her van. Somewhere along the highway, we passed a gas station where a large dog was sitting close to the edge of the road. We are both dog lovers.

I interrupted our discussion with “What kind of dog was that?” as we zoomed by.

“Dog?” she replied, “What dog?”

“The one we just passed,” I answered.

“We didn’t pass a dog, we just went by a Circle K,” she said.

“Ah, you didn’t see the dog, but it was there.”

“You’re making it up to change the subject.”

At the next turnable place, I maneuvered the van across lanes of the lightly traveled highway in a most illegal U-turn and headed to the gas station possibly five miles back, hoping the dog hadn’t been run over or run away. Sure enough, the dog was still sitting by the road.

“There,” says I, “that dog.”

“Oh, I guess I didn’t see it. It looks like a shepherd mix to me.”

“And that was my point,” I said returning to our discussion about belief. “Your reality is that the dog didn’t exist because you didn’t experience it.  Your truth is different from my truth. My truth could be based on an illusion or on my five senses, but it is my truth. It is what I know to be true and the same goes for you. Had I not turned the van around, we would have totally different memories of the same experience.”

What would my essay be today if the dog left, disappearing around the side of the building or into its owner’s car? It would be of a dog I swear I saw but then disappeared and her story would be of a crazy friend who made a U-turn in the middle of a highway to show her a phantom dog. Both would be true.

I write fiction primarily. Fiction contains elements of a writer’s truth. To my many memoir writing friends I want to say, write YOUR truth. There are no video or audio recordings of your day-to-day activities or relationships and the memories they engender. Your memory IS the recording and it IS filtered through your experience. Write what is in your heart because that is the truth and that is more important and much more interesting than all the facts listed in order as years evolve. Don’t let the fears of others block your truth. They cannot convey your story and should not arbitrate it. They are bit players, you are the star. What you learned is of value to those who are not able to express their story in words. Your truth may inspire or may help someone, even in your family, understand their world better. Write your story as it is for you. Don’t wait to let someone else tell it because it will then only be your story filtered through their experience, their story of you. Be Brave.

Our book Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets includes essays from each author’s truth as well as fiction short stories and poetry.

Christmas Gift

This week we hosted a reunion of our family and former neighbors.

Our fourteen-year-old grandson, David, met two neighborhood children when they were all two-years-old. We were his full-time caregivers while his mom, our daughter, worked. David was at our home every weekday and grew up with the kids in our neighborhood. As time passed, changes were inevitable. Jill’s family moved to Washington DC and Bobby’s moved to a different part of Tucson. We kept in touch sporadically during the years as the kids grew. Our grandson was, for a while, in the same school as Bobby, when he lived across the street. But by the age of seven, they were all separated with Jill being the farthest.

The boys get together several times a month and remain close friends. Our daughter took David to Washington DC one summer to visit Jill and her family. Another summer, they met halfway in Chicago. Jill’s family visited Tucson once and all three kids got together.

This year they made the trip to Tucson for a short visit. We hosted the reunion at our house. All the adults wondered how the teens would react to each other after a four-year separation. By noon the boys sat by the window watching for Jill’s arrival. It was an amazing greeting. All three kids moved right into the space of their friendship as if only a day or two had passed. They chatted non-stop. In the afternoon they took a two-hour walk while we, grownups, were fixing dinner. They bought sweet rolls for our dessert.

After dinner, the kids went into the room that we keep for David’s occasional overnights; the room that once housed his toys and where he napped as a baby. On his walls are photo posters that I made each year from when he was two until seven. All three kids are in those posters. They stayed in the room reminiscing over their pictures, laughing and talking for quite a while. I know those memories meant something to them.

Greater than any wrapped present, purchased or made, is the gift of friendship. We know these three will maintain their relationship as they become adults. Each is on the brink of adulthood now, each has their own interests, their unique set of talents, their own friends at schools but they will always remember the closeness that came of their time as children. Another reunion, possibly in California, is being planned for summer. David has no siblings, Bobby has no siblings, and Jill has a sister seven years younger. The relationship the three teens created is very like brothers and sister – family.

On Reflection – My Birthday Quilt

A patchwork of life

I have good health, a comfortable life, great memories, and positive people around me. I would be an absolute fool to not be grateful and feel blessed for all I have been given. Reviewing my journals, in an attempt to organize them, and talking with friends who called with warm birthday wishes set me to thinking of my life – as a quilt. Every person I’ve known through time is a patch on my quilt; small patches for brief acquaintances, larger ones for enduring relationships, and others somewhere in between.

The idea of a quilt came to me as I thought of my friend, Mary, who is a premier quilter and teacher. She helped me begin a quilt many years ago that today resides in a plastic box at the top of my closet, still in pieces. I don’t have the patience to sew but I loved the idea of making a quilt. Mary offered to finish it for me, but I’d rather do it myself. Maybe. Someday. I will begin again. In the meantime, my imaginary quilt is easy to piece together using the threads of memory.

Each patch has its own texture to match the person it represents from cozy chenille to fluid silk or satin, smooth cotton to linen, sturdy denim to rough scratchy burlap. Each patch has a shape – round, square, animal, flower, star, or leaf. Each square or shape has a color – bright or dull, dark or light, some printed with polka-dots, flowers, stripes or plaids, even animal prints (you know who you are).

A bright yellow silk patch is for the woman I can call on at any hour of the day or night. I can tell her the most outrageous thoughts; she understands me and never takes offense. How blessed am I to have her in my life? One animal print square is for my amazing friend who has the grace of a jaguar, the energy of a box of kittens, and the bright smile of a Cheshire cat. She lights my day. Another friend gets a white canvas triangular piece because it reminds me of him and sailing. My imagination has fabricated a giant quilted panorama for the story of my life.

A blue denim horse shape is for an old boyfriend whose memory still makes me smile. A pink chenille star is for someone I always think of as a soft snuggly part of my life. A boldly patterned cotton chintz in cool green, shaped as a flower represents a woman who is sturdy, bright, and resilient. The center of my quilt is a deep blue wool piece shaped into a compass rose that always points due north. It is for the man who has shared my life for fifty-eight plus years.

There are patches for my parents (Mama’s is delicate purple polka dots, Daddy’s a deep cinnamon velvet) and grandparents, my brother, and cousins. There are patches for faith, love, and service. There is no thing in my life as important as the people in it and that includes many fur people throughout the years. Each of those furry friends has a shape or square that tells their part in my story too.

A scratchy grey burlap patch is for the boss who attempted to dismiss my contributions to the company we worked for. I told him I would not accept his summary of my annual work review. He balked so I told him I would take my case to his boss with my evidence of accomplishments. Grudgingly he changed the report to my satisfaction.

I know I have been the prickly burlap patch in a few quilts. I am content with that. Every one of us is the hero in our own story and every hero needs an adversary against whom to sharpen their character skills. I hope I’ve been the snuggly chenille or bright silk or smooth cotton for most. No matter – my quilt is bright and beautiful and makes me smile. Thank God!