That is my biggest fear when I write, that I will write something not worthy of reading. Why write another sentence that someone would rather not read? Francine Prose offered a practical suggestion in her book, Reading like a Writer, that maybe a solution to boring our readers. Prose suggests we write narrationwith the reader in mind. Narration should be directed at someone; who we are telling the story is as important as how we tell the story. (p 86)
Writing with your reader in mind, may encourage us to skip over parts of the plot that are unnecessary. Thinking about someone glancing at their watch or their phone waiting for you to get to your point will cause me to edit my words. My sons are good indicators of when I need to write the story for the listener. Painfully honest, my boys will interject, “Get to the point, Mama!” Francine Prose says, “…it forced me to confront the painful question of whether what I was telling was actually a story or merely, say, a rumination.” (p. 86)
In memoir, the narrator is not necessarily the writer. In our Creative Nonfiction class, the author of Writing Memoirs points this out. Sometimes a memoir requires the memory of another person to tell a complete story. I had to use my sister’s memory to tell my story, “Watching.”
While writing my first exercise, I knew would be read to the entire class, I was obsessively conscious of the fact that other writers would be listening. If they were like me, they do not have patience for 22 sentimental ramblings. I tried to respect my class members and got to the point and conserve my words. Here is the result:
The world was watching Vietnam become a war in the summer of 1965. Americans were focused on President Johnson as he gave them Medicare and Medicaid. But my mother was distracted with preparations for the weekend Fourth of July party and my third birthday.
Buffalo, New York was never hot enough for air conditioning, and old farm houses built-in the 1800s were not equipped for sweltering summer days. The troubled property on Route 16 in the Aurora Village was an adventure-filled place for the Moser kids to explore:dark wooded places, large lush lawns, and dangerous structures. In that household of 7, soon to be 10, the kids scattered across the acreage of the Seven Pines looking for something cool to do. Slipping outside with my siblings, I made my escape to the Picnic House.
The Picnic House was an open-shelter with brick grills, built-in cabinets, a glass-bottle Coke machine, and an old Frigidaire refrigerator. The refrigerator was only plugged in for weekend parties to store macaroni salad, condiments, and Kool-Aid.
In the bits and pieces of a developing mind, I remember patches of playing with someone(someone real or imagined), who I thought was my “friend.” We were playing picnic and making hamburgers with mustard. I loved mustard. My “friend” said,
“We don’t have any mustard.”
I love mustard. I went to the refrigerator and struggled with the locking door, but no mustard – it was musty and hot inside. My “friend” told me to be the mustard.So I got in the refrigerator and shut the door. That was the last thing I remembered.
When the door closed it locked. It was 1965, years before refrigerators were redesigned to open from the inside. There was no escape for a child yet to be three.
Ellen carried the weight of being the oldest daughter in a large family with a mother unable to deal with her responsibilities. Ellen was my 9-year-old sister and my savior on that hot July day in 1965. After being blamed for not watching me,she searched harder than anyone. After a couple of trips to the Picnic House, she decided to open the refrigerator.
Forty years later, Ellen still remembers the sight of her baby sister curled up in a ball,her powder-blue sun suit pulled off, and golden curls soaking wet. The next-door neighbor, a volunteer firefighter, rushed me to the village doctor who pronounced me lucky.
“Five more minutes and she would have been a goner.”
What does a young child remember of a near tragedy? I do not like small spaces. I still love mustard. I live with gratitude that my older sister found me. I am resolute to live with purpose, because though my mother was not watching over me, someone else was. I feel protected by an abiding unseen guide. Oh and one more thing – I choose my “friends” more carefully.