Help me get this right - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 2 Old 05-07-2007, 02:24 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I have written this about my grandmother, but I am too close to it. I am not sure if the flow is good or if it needs more transitions, detail, etc. Any help would be appreciated.
“Do you think it is good enough?” asked my grandmother. I was sewing a wool jacket for a 4-H competition. I had sewed a crooked seam, but it would be covered by lining. No one would see it, but she and I would know it was crooked.

This was a running theme of my conversations with her. Do I think it is good enough, it being grades, personal appearance, sewing, or my attitude. She always had kind words to say to and about everyone. She lived the Lord's Prayer. She was very forgiving and believed that God would sort it all out. That was not our job to judge.

Any sarcastic or snide comment was met with, “Now, Meghan,” followed by gentle chiding. Then she would say something kind about what or whoever I was mocking.

At her funeral, numerous people approached us. They told us how Grandma was the first person to welcome them to the community. She would drop by their home, introduce herself, and offer encouragement and help with no strings attached. I did not know, or even recognize many of these people, but grandma had positively impacted their lives.

She was known as a wonderful, kind woman and talented seamstress. She taught generations of women in our small community to sew. She made brownies for every funeral and visited each new arrival. She was also Bi-Polar. These are the elements that made up my grandmother.

My clearest memories of my Grandma Laura are of her teaching me to sew. She would spend hours supervising my construction skills. As a child, I remember her being able to sew and repair anything. By the time I got married, she could not sew a simple flower girl basket. The amount of knowledge and skill lost to dementia and age was a tremendous loss to us all.

A local group hosts a lunch for the grieving family after every funeral. Each member brings a dish, so the family does not need to think about it. Grandma, who was not a member of the group, took brownies to every funeral. Not out of any sense of obligation or because she had been asked, but because it was the right thing to do. .

However, there was another side to my grandmother. She developed Bi-Polar disorder in her 70's, after the murder of her only son. She would become paranoid, manic, and combative. It was very difficult to see the change in my kind and caring grandma.

She would have an episode about once a year, which would result in time in the mental ward of the hospital. She would stay there for a couple of weeks, until they got her meds adjusted and she was mostly back to normal. These episodes were very hard on her health. She had several heart attacks and a stroke as a result of her mania, but she had a tremendous will to live.

I remember, as a small girl, being at a store with my mom. My grandma happened to be at the same store. She came up to us screaming about us following her and trying to control her. That was the moment I understood that something was wrong.

She had her good days and her bad days. My mom and I got to the point that we could see a breakdown coming. We usually couldn't head it off, but we could brace ourselves for whatever paranoid delusions that grandma would come up with. She was hardest on grandpa, mom and I. I think because we were always there and she knew we would never leave her.

I lived with my grandparents for about a year. I have fond memories of that time and am glad I had that opportunity. They had a romance for the ages. My grandfather worshipped the ground she walked on and he could do no wrong. At the end of the day, grandma would be in the kitchen, cooking. Grandpa would come up behind her, put his cold hands under her shirt and say, “Isn’t she a wonderful grandma?” She would say, “Oh, George,” with a smile on her face. I think she lived as long as she did for him. Grandma held on as long as she could.

Grandma died two days after Christmas 2005, surrounded by her family, of a heart attack. I think it is how she would have liked it. With the people she loved and who loved her. To quote my mom, "The longer she is gone, the more I remember how she used to be." I think that sums up my own feelings also.

When she died, it was almost a relief, because her health was so bad at the end. But in retrospect she is the woman I wish I could be; kind, community minded, Christian, and a good mother and grandmother. I wish I could be as good a person as she was.

I ripped out that seam and resewed it. Grandma was right; I should do it right if I was going to do it at all. She was not only teaching sewing but life lessons in honesty hard work, and morality.
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#2 of 2 Old 05-07-2007, 10:43 AM
 
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What you have written here is a sort of personal obituary of your grandmother that would make a splendid outline for a much longer story. You are, first of all, a good writer. But each of the sections here only gives us a peek at something larger. The piece standing by itself does not quite hold together, because you have not given us enough.

This piece is also about you. I will project an utterly unsubstantiated impression on you, your grandmother and your story and say that you want to write a sort of memoir about your grandmother to honor her and part of this means working through what she meant to you, because she was a very important person in your life. It seems to me that you are still grieving for her, which is why this story is so hard for you to write. Writing more will help you with this too.

While your piece does have the incident of the seam to you are sewing to bind it together, the episodes are scattered. You might start by treating each paragraph as a separate heading in a notebook and recounting an incident that expresses what you are trying to say without actually telling us what point you are trying to make. Make the descriptions as rich as you can. What I mean by this is when the memory comes into your head, pay attention to the details it holds. Are there things (sights, sounds, colors, odors, etc.) that evoke these memories for you? These are the sort of details that will also evoke them for the reader. Your little descriptions do not have to be literally accurate. You can use composite memories and blend several things together and your descriptions will be no less truthful for that.

Your goal is to create a big grab bag full of little episodes from her life (and yours). They do not have to be in any order yet. You can include not only your own memories of her, but things that other people told you about her, especially from her childhood and young adulthood. On a technical note, writing these pieces will also give you practice and since some or many of them may be short, you will be able to find the time to write them. (Some of these might be very short indeed, i.e.; “I remember that before threading a needle, my grandmother would wet the end of the thread with her lips. As she concentrated guiding the end through the little eye, her pursed lips would move slightly as though encouraging the thread to find its way.”) If you find yourself on a given day unable to write something new, reread what you have written and polish them a bit. Review the whole collection from time to time to make sure that there is enough about you in it as well.

If you have achieved your goal of compiling a great disordered mass of material, you can then work on a structure. You may find that a structure begins to form in your mind as you write the smaller anecdotes. In the piece you gave us above, you are presenting your grandmother as first and foremost a great teacher. (Great teachers always impart ethical wisdom as well as skills.) This is an excellent theme, but if you pursue it in your story, you should note that stories about teachers have to show a progression for the taught as they move from ignorance to wisdom. Teaching stories need narrative time. Part of the story is (as you have put it) that your grandmother was simply a good example. But being a good example is not enough. Good teachers inspire people to be good students. You allude to this in your own case, but so far you are only alluding. We need to know how she made you into a good student. You need to make this part more explicit if you are going to go with the teaching theme.

This will take time. Keeping things small until you get into your stride will help you do this. Think that you are recording the life of your grandmother for your children and your descendents. Remember, you want them to understand. You are not simply recording the facts. Please post your pieces on here from time to time, even if they only amount to a few scattered sentences and we can continue to talk.
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