Listening to the murmur of my great-grandmother as she lisped the tales of her young life in the 19th century---her teeth were in a jar by the bed-- showed me the power of an ordinary person's story. The featherbed puffed around us in the sticky attic room, lights from the highway flashed on the angled ceiling. I learned about pioneers stopping by in their covered wagons on the way to Kansas, how she washed--pronouncing it "worshed" -- clothes in an iron pot in the yard. She told me about the first time she heard a voice on a telephone, the first radio, how she was a midwife to the neighbors and fed 20 harvesters during summer at a long plank table. The cook stove burned all day summer and winter. She was a ship of a woman, her hips rising along the bed under her white cotton nightgown, the skin of her arms and face gathered like a petticoat, her voice droning on and on.
During those summer nights, I tucked away her stories, realizing that inside everyone was a whole history that only they knew, and i that history, so much wisdom.
I gathered her stories, filing them alongside all the secrets and untold stories of the rest of the family, and waited for them to bloom into my memoir Don't Call Me Mother.
After spending thirty years as a therapist and learning about the different ways that people can heal, I discovered the research by Dr. James Pennebaker and others --how writing can help to heal not only emotional issues, but physical problems as well--asthma, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome. Further research on how writing helps to heal Post Traumatic Stress Disorder makes it clear how important exploring secrets, unspoken and buried truths, and disturbing stories can free people from the traumas of the past. My three books about writing--Becoming Whole, The Power of Memoir, and Journey of Memoir guide writers from beginning to end of writing a successful memoir.