Changing Gears

win badgeChanging gears a bit – I will return to my Wales saga tomorrow …

Seven years ago I began participating in a different kind of writing program – it’s not a creative writing course and there are no critiques.  It’s purpose is to encourage us to write our life’s stories.  We all have stories.  “J’écris ma vie” was started by Olivier Fillion, a Frenchman in Quebec.  The seed for “J’écris ma vie” (literally, “I write my life”) was probably planted during his years in public relations where his work included meeting with retiring staff and writing something about their life.  From that Fillion went on to develop an outline for tapping into one’s memories to produce family stories for the next generation.

He developed it as a two-year program, meeting every two weeks to share stories.  At each session a guide or ‘prompt sheet’ is distributed with questions – it is not intended that we necessarily write on every point; they are merely an aid to help nudge the memories loose.  The program starts with the early years, looking back to our ancestors, values and beliefs, brothers and sisters, and moves through childhood, adolescence, love and romance, parenting and family life to retirement and the golden years. A member of our community took it upon himself to translate Fillion’s program into English and W.I.N. – Write it Now – came into being.

A ‘”two-year” program that has kept both me and my husband engaged with an interesting, fun, humorous and sometimes sad, sympathetic and empathetic community of new friends for seven years.  It re-awakened my joy in writing and gave structure to my jottings.

A simple prompt from the first sheet, The Early Years: “What early memories do you have of your grandparents?” prompted me to write the following:

Last of the Grand Old Ladies

When I was in my late teens we moved closer to my father’s parents and I got to know and appreciate my grandmother, Hilda.  She even lived with us for a time  and if I had to describe her in a few words, they would be “one of the last of the grand old ladies”.  She had grace, she had strength, and she had class.

Hilda was born in Toronto in 1891, and lived at “Ventnor”, on Avenue Road; from her home she watched Casa Loma being built.

In 1912, she was a debutante. She gave me her portrait taken for the ball, in “full court accessores” as she described it to me.

She married my grandfather in 1913 … she told me once that she remembered running naked in the yard with my grandfather during a soft summer rain … not something you imagine of your grandparents, and certainly not in 1913.

My favourite anecdote about Granny took place while she was living with us when she was in her 80s. One evening’s chat turned to Grandpa who had passed away some seven or eight years earlier.  She said he was buried in Grove Cemetery and that there was a spot for her there too.  “Not beside him”, she said, “the plots are one on top of the other.”  There was a delightful pause, and then she said, “It will be the first time I’ve ever been on top.”  It took a moment for everyone in the room to react to that rejoinder.

Granny continued on, despite some severe blows, always grace under fire, with an inner strength I admired.  At times I’ve thought that if I could have her strength that I would be OK.   Hilda passed away just short of her 95th birthday.   I always remember her with admiration, warmth … and a smile … a Grand Old Lady to that last.

If this prompts you to write something, I would love to read it – please leave me a link.


18 thoughts on “Changing Gears

  1. You and Gra told me quite a bit about WIN when I visited at your home last year and it struck a chord, The subject of family history is so much more colourful than a lot of people imagine, for me, my Father has so many stories of his youth, the depression, WW II, and post war Montreal. Some of it has a dark side though, and I am a little reticent about opening that door. Be that as it may, I should get off my duff and start!
    Have you thought about hosting an internet version of WIN? I really admire your artistic ability. Sincerely, Terry


    1. G and I have both really enjoyed the writing progam which is why we keep going after 7 years and, yes, I did think about hosting an internet version – are you going to join me? It takes a bit of discipline in that one needs to take the time to sit and draw up the memories and transfer them into words. But it’s not about becoming a famous published author, it’s only about getting the stories on paper in whatever words come, just getting them down. If you have an interest I really encourage you to do it – it’s very rewarding and you have the wonderful benefit of your Dad still being alive – now’s the time.


  2. Lynne: I think of the challenge: Honor your mother and your father. With your personal style and giftedness you have found a way to do just that (and your parent’s parents as well). A lovely tribute.


  3. What a brilliant concept!Loved the memories nudged by the prompt! Those titbits about your Grandmother helped flesh her out from being just a face in that faded photograph!


    1. Yes, and that’s what I want to preserve for the next generation. Because of my accident of birth in the middle of the 20thC I am the link between my grandparents born in the 19thC and my grandchildren born in the 21stC – spanning 3 centuries – that’s pretty astounding I think, and I’d like to hand down the humaness of those I knew to those I will never know.


  4. I think being close enough to your grandmother, both physically and emotionally, that she was able to share photos and stories is wonderful. A couple of years ago I was trying to turn up some of our family history and wanted to know so much more. Not just the facts, mam, but also the gossipy little stories – like running naked in the rain.


    1. I know, isn’t that tidbit delightful?! With my own mother, she was in the process of moving closer to me and I was planning to spend more time with her and pick her brain about all her wonderful stories but, sadly she passed away before she completed the move. Once they are gone so much goes with them.


  5. A grand journey for you. I myself need structure for my jottings! Thanks for sharing such an honest, tender story or shall I say a biographical summary? See/ I’m already learning some structure! 🙂


    1. I have written on and off most of my life, a lot of dear diary stuff – I felt there were some ‘gems’ there worth preserving but, they remained tucked away in this book or that drawer, waiting to be lost. This WIN approach now has most of these gems consolidated into a collection of essays. It also aided, I might add, in trashing the less than worthy notes and some I just plain didn’t want anyone to ever see!


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