“Formatting complete. Sample interior pages to follow.”
The email was concise and promises a finale to my literary adventure in writing a memoir.
It all started while visiting daughter, Beth, and reviewing her father-in-law’s memoir about his life in Denmark as a child during the Nazi occupation during World War II, subsequent immigration to America and settling as a farmer in Montana. Knud is an impressive and charming man with a significant life story.
Beth’s daughter, my granddaughter, Rachel, surprised me by saying, “You should write a memoir, Grandma.” I responded, “Someday,” as parents and grandparents do when a child asks for something they can’t or don’t want to deliver. I’ll think about it. Go ask your father. Maybe after harvest or Mother’s’ Day or Thanksgiving. We have our excuses.
But I tinkered with the idea of a life’s story knowing full well the only consistent theme was the farm near Fargo where I grew up, married, continued to farm with my husband and later our sons and grandson. No mysteries, great disasters or major achievements marked my calendars. But the calendars themselves ran from the 1950s to the present and it is amazing to think of the changes in technology, farm practice, education, and cultural expression taking place in a lifetime.
Was this the basis to the narrative or should I tell about the many public projects that have competed with the farm for my time? Rather than make a decision, I began to write.
I filled many yellow pad pages with trial outlines by chronology and theme. As the possibility of selling the farm materialized, I decided that process should provide the framework. Daughter Jean offered her skills as editor, and I started telling my stories as she disposed of my commas, taught me “tracking” and insisted on more explanation. I have always written expecting the reader’s intelligence to find my wit.
Since Jean was away from home several years — getting her master’s in Boston and working in Miami and Washington, D.C. — my writing provoked new awareness and discussion of some incidents. Beth was brought into the process for her wisdom and digital photo expertise.
The chapters flew like geese from me in Fargo to Jean in St. Louis and Beth in Maple Grove, Minn. I then gave son Mark and husband Robert a chance to comment. I thought their viewpoints on farming had been adhered to in all the preceding years, but this was my turn to speak.
At some point, I decided not to do a full review on the farm but to cover my own rural perception and urban involvement. Robert’s oral histories are well known to all our family and friends. I hope Mark will write the next volume or two to cover the evolution of equipment, labor, land practices and efforts to provide flood control for land in the Red River and Sheyenne floodplains.
Writing the memoir has forced me to look back on a life of multitasking. I’ve also increased my appreciation for the many remarkable people that have enhanced or complicated that life. It’s been fun to discuss events and issues with my busy family. I believe my book is one picture of a woman’s life in North Dakota from World War II to the present. I hope it inspires others to write their own memoir.
And I hope it offers a positive perspective on life to my grandchildren and others to live a full life. There will be good times and trying times, but for those who keep their balance and sense of humor, there should always be a next time.
My memoir is titled “What! Sell the Farm?” and is my delayed response to Rachel’s request. The sight of the first copy of the actual book won’t surpass the joy of the writing and reviewing. The race was better than the trophy. Life always surprises.