Memoir: Your Journey, an Inheritance

Now what? Last week I attended our county library’s author event with Dani Shapiro, whose latest book is Inheritance: A memoir of genealogy, paternity, and love. The room was packed, all to hear her fascinating story of shocking discovery through DNA testing, and how that affected her concept of who she was. Dani is a blonde, raised by dark-haired Jewish parents and steeped in Jewish traditions. Yes, now what?

Dani Shapiro’s story is a whole ‘nother perspective from that of adoptees who feel a deep need to find their biological parents, to help them make sense of themselves by where they came from and what happened (and to know their medical histories). What if your father was a sperm donor, as Dani discovered hers was? (No one has mentioned the issue of egg donors yet.) These donors were promised anonymity, as were parents who gave their children up for adoption, but for them there likely will never be an “opt in” box to check if they want to know who they fathered. And now there is that DNA testing by, 23andMe, and other companies that will reveal the unknown, and secrets that possibly may ruin lives if told.

What if you discover, like a Chicago woman in the news today, that you have 15 half siblings thanks to your sperm donor father? Do you expect to have relationships with relatives whose only connection is having a father who did not want to know about them? Maybe they don’t even know and you will shock them. With DNA testing, even if you did not submit a test yourself, you can be found, like it or not, if any of your relatives have done the testing. Crime labs are using these genetic databases to solve murders sometimes decades old (recently, Myoung Hwa Cho and son Robert Whitt). Dani found her biological father within 36 hours, with some help from social media, too.

Dani’s memoir promises to be a fascinating one. She already was a memoir writer, and suddenly she had a really good reason to write another. Despite all her memoirs, Dani said she doesn’t have a good memory! But, some experiences she remembers with sharp clarity, like when her mother casually mentioning to a stranger that Dani was conceived in a Philadelphia institute. Dani had her life narrative crushed, and she had to analyze it and make adjustments. Her advice to other memoir writers:

“Don’t write what happened. Write the journey.”


Posted in adoption, book talk, heritage, memoir writing | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

War Stories: They Shall Not Grow Old

What is the message of the documentary They Shall Not Grow Old? There is no plot, no storyline, no main character, no moral to the story. Instead, filmmaker Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame, champions the importance of storytelling. Real-life storytelling.

They Shall Not Grow Old is not your usual documentary explaining the history of something or someone with some quotes and commentary added in. It goes beyond a Ken Burns documentary that has a lot of quotes and commentary along with history. Peter Jackson chose to make this film all about personal experiences. Human nature dooms us to fight repeated wars, and violent shows make for popular entertainment, but let’s understand the reality of what goes on at the front lines—and afterwards for those who survive.

Kudos to the BBC for conducting interviews with WWI veterans—the last one died in 2012. Only their families are left to repeat the stories, if they even know them. At the end of the film is a long list of the elder British veterans whose interview clips basically narrate the documentary. They told intimate details about their training, what they wore, what they ate, what the trenches were like, how they went to the “bathroom,” what being surrounded by death was like, how they reacted to the end of the war, and what happened when they went home. What they thought and felt.

The film clips are amazing, not just for what they show but for how they have been restored to better than they ever were. The men have become real! It is worth staying after the credits to hear Peter Jackson explain the challenges in making the film and show some before and after clips. At the very end he asks us to ask the questions. That is our responsibility to save lived history by asking the questions. Pass it on. Maybe write it down for safekeeping, or make a recording. Thank goodness for all the life writers and oral historians out there.

Related post: Memorial Day – All Quiet on the Western Front



Posted in capturing memories, history, honoring veterans, war stories | Tagged | 1 Comment

Ornament Memories of Christmas Past

I put up a small artificial tree this year. The kids are grown and I’m busy. The thought of putting up a big live tree of dripping needles was too much, but the short old fake tree is a little embarrassing, at least until dark when the colored lights bring on the magic. I did put out the usual decorations on the fireplace mantel. The fireplace we never use because it burns wood, which aggravates my allergies. But, my homemade stockings look nice hanging there.

It’s really a shame when I put up the little tree because I have a big collection of ornaments—ornaments I can’t bear to get rid of because they hold meanings. Some of my favorites are from when we lived in England – cloth dolls of King Henry and some of his wives, a red-coated Queen’s guard, Alice in Wonderland. I fell in total love with England—and Wales—and could never part with those ornaments. Then there are theIMAG0056.1 ones from my family that were given to me during the early years of my marriage. I have the dates written on some of them. I love having those dates! There’s a hand-decorated, wine-colored glass ball from 1984, with little silk roses glued on top, crafted by my stepmom. A jointed cloth bear and a horse were sewn by my sister. Also, I still have some ornaments the kids made in kindergarten.

This year I opened a box I had not looked at for years (because I have so many ornaments) and found an angel from my childhood days. Not much survived from then, but here was that angel I had forgotten about. And some fiberglass birds that clip onto the tree branches. I have the four “Heavenly Noel Angels” made in Japan in the 1950s. These are my treasures, reminding me of childhood excitement and the days when we drove to my grandmother’s house in Chicago, me thrilled by all the lighted decorations attached to streetlights. They are all vintage now—like me.



I also love my floppy Rodney and Rhonda Reindeer from the mid-1980s. Their children are Randy and Ramona, and there’s a mini baby version. These Hallmark toys apparently were sold by Burger King, with the mini baby in kids’ meals, although I swear I got them from McDonald’s because I normally would not go to BK. Memories can be deceiving. These toys take me back to living in northern Alabama. I had the beany baby craze pre-children, and a decade before those other beany babies came out.


I have not read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which was so popular a while back, but I know it’s about keeping only the things that speak to you. Well, my house is noisy. Noisy with memories.

Merry Christmas – hope you have great memories hanging on your tree!


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