Autobiography Ghostwriter Kevin Quirk Soaks Up Past Memories by Going Back to Hometown

As a 5 year child, I remember riding in my parents’ Chevrolet station wagon while we rode up and down what seemed like crater-sized holes on Pinedale Road in my hometown of Shrewsbury, MA. Up, down. Up, down. It was just like a roller-coaster. Finally we would arrive at our house on this short dirt road, across the street from Maironis Park and the shores of Lake Quinsigamond. We moved from that house a year later, but we would return to visit my grandparents in my childhood home for many years thereafter. The crater holes never get filled in. Up, down. Up, down.

A few weeks ago I was planning my 60th birthday reminiscing tour. I had Googled my tiny road and in one search, Pinedale Road didn’t show up. That was not surprising. I had not been back there in 30 years and even then the area was being swallowed up by apartments and condos. So I was fully prepared to return to the scene of Pinedale Road and find…no Pinedale Road.

Instead, I found just what I had left. Pinedale Road was there. The crater holes remained, just as I remembered them back in 1959. In our new 2014 Camry we rode up, down, up, down. Our old house was still there, too, the hedges that I used to trim for my grandmother needing some attention. An image of my past had somehow been frozen, seemingly just for me. And as I focus more of my time and energy on writing my own life story, while I also assist clients from all over the country in writing their autobiography in my role as ghostwriter and personal historian, I embraced this moment as a valuable and inspirational gift.

I made several other reminiscing stops. Our swimming area on Lake Quinsigamond was no longer public, which didn’t stop form walking the path to the same location. The stone wall we would climb to lay our blanket for a lazy August afternoon remained. I can remember lingering there for hours, alternating quick dips in the chilly water with eating our bologna sandwiches and munching Stateline potato chips.

I returned to Calvin Coolidge Elementary School. It had been added on to, probably at least twice, but the original section appeared intact. I spotted my fourth grade classroom with the windows overlooking the playground. And the playground itself was still much as I remembered it. I had a vivid memory of the mean second grade teacher who pinched my chin while yelling at me for eating my mom’s banana bread where I apparently wasn’t supposed to.

When I approached my primary childhood home on Lake Street, I lucked out. The folks living in a neighbor’s house were having a yard sale. I spoke to the woman living there and apparently our house was still owned by the man who bought it from my parents in 1972. He had doubled the size but the long driveway was much as I remembered it, and so were the woods headed down to the lake shore. I would spend hours meandering in those woods with my dog Gus, and then I’d take out our canoe – the fastest canoe on the lake!.

A short drive up to Edgemere Park revealed the basketball court where I first played pick-up games as a 12 year old. I swear I once hit five long shots in a row on that court…

All in all, my reminisce-and-remember tour of my hometown fed my desire to go back…and to honor where I had lived, and what I had experienced there. If you are writing your life story today, and you moved away from your hometown long ago, have you gone back to sift through your memories, to hunt for clues, to usher yourself back into a time and place that will inspire your autobiographical writing? If not, consider scheduling a return trip soon. Whether things there are the same or very different, the memories are there waiting for you.

- Autobiography ghostwriter Kevin Quirk assists women and men of all ages and backgrounds, from hometowns from Maine to California, in writing their life story. He is the author of “Your Life Is a Book And It’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story.”

If You Don’t Actually Know All Your Facebook Friends, Try Meeting Them in Person Like Ty Morin and Mikel McLaughlin

Do you really KNOW all your Facebook friends? Would you recognize more than half of them if you walked by them on the street? Does your group of Facebook friends include some people that you have never even met personally, or at least have not seen in decades?

For many of us, assembling a large group of Facebook friends has become a social norm. And part of that norm is to beef up that list with people we don’t really, actually know. I recently came across articles about two Facebook regulars who have set out to change that. They took a vow to go out in the world in search of their Facebook friends, and to meet with them face-to-face, rather than laptop to laptop.

The first pioneer was Ty Morin, a photographer who announced that he would personally meet all 788 of his Facebook friends and then put together a documentary on those meetings and how it affected him:http://www.179pictures.com/about.html.

News of his project surfaced about a year and a half ago. Earlier this year, Mikel McLaughlin made a similar vow and has been blogging about his face-to-face meetings with Facebook friends: http://www.werefriendsright.com. Even if he used to know these “friends,” he is discovering that sitting down with them and just talking about their lives for an hour or longer instantly enables him to know that person much better than he had ever known them before.

Does this sound like an intriguing idea to you? You don’t have to go all-in to try this as an experiment. Maybe you want to take a smaller number of your Facebook friends, perhaps choosing 50 men and women whom you hardly know or have not seen in years. Then initiate direct contact with them, and see where it goes. The exercise could prove to be a valuable reminder that in today’s social environment, we often say we know a great many people but, in reality, we don’t. But we can change that, and be enriched in the process.

If you are writing your life story, this kind of exploration may be especially revealing, and fun, for you to embark on. So give it some thought. Your “friends” may be waiting for you.

- Kevin Quirk helps women and men of all ages and backgrounds tell the most important stories of their lives, including stories about friends they have known, in his role as autobiography ghostwriter and personal historian. He is the author of “Your Life Is a Book And It’s Time to Write It: An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story.”

Autobiography Ghostwriter Kevin Quirk Plans to Mark His 60th Birthday with a Revisit, Reminisce and Reconnect Tour

When I interview women and men in my role as personal historian and autobiography ghostwriter, I often invite them to share stories from memorable birthdays. Sometimes that invitation opens the door to birthdays in which that person goes back in time. That’s what I’m choosing to do for my extended 60th birthday.

The plan is shaping up for mid-August, about a month after my actual birthday. The idea is to return to places that have been important in my life though I seldom spend much time there anymore. I seek to reminisce, revisit, and perhaps rekindle…something…I’m not yet sure what.

First stop is the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, the holistic educational center where I lived and worked for several years. It was my home base for sorting out new directions and new possibilities in my life. It’s also the place where my wife Krista and I met, 25 years ago this summer. Our jobs overlapped, with me serving as Director of Housing in charge of the cabins, dorms, and camp sites for attendees and Krista in charge of arrangements for the faculty. We enjoyed a few nice talks, walked the perimeter of the lake together a few times, and even went to a movie, “Field of Dreams,” which celebrated Krista’s home state of Iowa while paying homage to Boston’s Fenway Park, my backyard all through college. Of course, it would take us three more years of only occasional letter writing (pre-email) to finally see the potential of a relationship, but that’s another story!

Then it’s on to the coast of Maine, where my parents frequently took our family for summer vacations. Their goal, as we heard it often, was to retire somewhere along that coast. Maybe run a little motel near Boothbay Harbor. It never happened, but it makes for a poignant memory. I’ve only prowled the coast a couple of times in the last 45 years, so I’m looking forward to going back in time in that region. We’ll be based down south near York but I know I’ll make it at least as far north as Camden.

Then I will make a stop in my hometown: Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. My parents moved away from there when I left for college in 1972, and I have no family in Shrewsbury today. I have passed through every now and then, but haven’t really explored the town in decades. I’m going to do that now, spurred by joining the Facebook group “If you grew up in Shrewsbury you remember…” I do remember more, more than I thought I did, and somehow as I turn 60 it’s become not only more important but more meaningful. I especially remember growing up on Lake Quinsigamond, and I’m looking forward to getting back out on the water where I first would explore in our rowboat and then in the fastest canoe on the lake!

Then it’s on to Fenway Park, where I attended at least 150 games while living in Shrewsbury and then attending Boston University as an undergrad in the ’70s. I once selected an apartment on Park Drive, despite the ever-present roaches, because it was a six-minute walk to the Fenway bleachers – five minutes for Yankees games. I was in Fenway when Carlton Fisk won Game Six of the 1975 World Series with his foul pole home run. I was back, thanks to my friend John, for the ’78 playoff heartbreak with the Yankees. The last time I sat in Fenway was more than 20 years ago. It remains one of those places that remind us that while much has changed, some things are still pretty much the same.

I don’t have any great expectations for this experience of remembering and honoring these past places that form part of the backdrop of my life. My plan is to show up and be present. Who knows? Maybe when I sit in some “Writing Your Life Story” class like the classes I teach today, I will be able to call up my memories, and the feelings and associations behind them, when I went back in time to mark my 60th birthday.

- Kevin Quirk helps women and men of all ages, backgrounds and places write their life stories as personal historian and autobiography ghostwriter. He is the author of “Your Life Is a Book And It’s Time to Write It,” and the place he now lives in is Crozet, Virginia.

Facebook “If you grew up in my town” Groups Are a Gold Mine of Stories for Anyone Writing Their Autobiography

I tend to be a bit slow to pick up on social media trends. Just a few weeks ago I caught on to the existence of a Facebook group, “If You Grew Up in Shrewsbury You Remember…” https://www.facebook.com/groups/160659847342279/
That’s my hometown: Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. I have not lived there since I went off to college at age 18, but the community still has a prominent place in my memory banks. And as soon as I began exploring the posts, I understood that this was going to be a major boon to my efforts in capturing my childhood as part of writing my life story.

I found that a story lie waiting for me to discover behind half the posts and the photos that went with them. I remember the amusement park at White City, and the black-and-white family photos of my older brother and sisters taking me there in my stroller. I remember the shopping center that took over that same space on the shores of Lake Quinsigamond in the early 1960s. My first bike got stolen outside the entrance to Bradlees department store there, and at the other end of the plaza I saw “Mary Poppins” when it opened the White City movie theater. A year later, when Marry Poppins finally flew out of town, I watched “The Sound of Music” there. As a child, I assumed that Julie Andrews was the only movie actress around.

A photo of Maironis Park triggered memories of how my Lithuanian grandmother was a member of the organization behind it, which enabled us to use the tiny swimming area behind the meeting space. A photo of the Edgemere Diner revealed a childhood friend’s mother and the reminder of how that diner served as my marker when riding my bike: I could finally turn off busy and loud Route 20, with all the trailer-trucks, onto the quiet neighborhood street that led to the park.

Looking at the Howard Johnson’s photo reminded me of what a treat it was for our family with five kids to go there for an ice cream or, as an even bigger splurge, a plate of fried clams. The photo of St. Anne’s church kindled memories of playing for the church basketball team. After missing a few easy layups the first game, a very tall priest fired 50 passes in a row to me under the basket to get it straight the next day at practice. For our Catholic confirmation, we practiced our solemn march into the church to the music of “Bolero.” I had to smile years later when “Bolero” was used in a very “different” context in the popular movie “10.”

Posts about my high school touched upon a memory that had just surfaced for me a few days earlier. During our junior class presentation of “Our Town,” the girl playing the female lead cracked her ribs running into the seats during the exit with her boyfriend/husband at the end of Act II. After several hushed and confusing moments, our director announced that although the actress did have an understudy, he wanted the injured girl to have a chance to play the final scene. Act III was performed about two months later.

Between jotting down notes for my next story to write, I did a quick check to see if this group was a unique entity on Facebook. Silly me! Of course there already had been dozens of “If you grew up…” groups.

Do you have one for your town? If not, do you feel called to launch one? If you are writing your life story in a memoir or autobiography, I bet you’re going to find a gold mine of stories within the posts and photos that pop up there. Happy hunting!

- Kevin Quirk helps women and men from any and all towns across the U.S. and beyond to write their life story in his role as autobiography ghostwriter, personal historian, book coach, and life-writing teacher. He is the author “Your Life Is a Book And It’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story.”

A March Snowfall in Virginia Stirs Memories of a Blizzard and a Howling Dog Named Gus for Autobiography Ghostwriter Kevin Quirk

It’s snowing again in my home near Charlottesville, Virginia, and I can’t help feeling cheated. As a native New Englander, I have long since come to anticipate and rely on stealing a month or more of spring. Come March 1st, when my family and friends back in New England keep grumbling about the winter that will never go away, I’m changing into sweatshirts and light jackets and watching the trees and flowers come to life.

Not this year. Just a couple of weeks after this wild winter of 2014 had dumped 15 inches of snow on us, we’re getting another substantial snowfall. We might get 6 or 8 inches before it’s done with us tonight, and the temperatures are fast plummeting to zero.

Who stole my spring?

Ah, but there’s a good side to being force-fed this reminder of “real” winter. It’s brought back many enduring memories of snowstorms of the past. The one I am reminded of today must have delivered at least two feet of snow on our home area of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, about 40 miles west of Boston. Usually life goes marching on when it snows in Massachusetts, but this storm had brought the march to a screeching halt. No one was going anywhere for a couple of days, and our long dirt driveway must have ranked low on the list of our regular snow plow man. We were not dug out for days, and the snow bankings from the previous storm and resultant plow just got higher and higher.

It was the snow bank closest to my bedroom window that became the sight of the image frozen in my mind. Our dog Gus, part beagle and part cocker spaniel, was a rugged outdoor pet that huddled in his doghouse on the porch in bad weather – but only for a few hours. Then he’d take off – in those days before leash laws – and we know where he would most often be heading. He had a doggie girlfriend, a part German shepherd lass, more than a mile away. We would often see them frolicking on her front yard, and yes, we did notice some pups who looked a fair bit like Gus around there as well.

In the aftermath of this blast of snow, with our driveway unplowed, even Gus was snowbound. He was yearning to be with his love, but living in the reality of being a dog beholding to the elements. To show his displeasure, he climbed to the top of that snow bank and just began howling. Like a wolf, he completely emptied his lungs, over and over again, pausing only to gaze down the unplowed driveway hoping to see it miraculously cleared, or raise his nose to pick up the scent of the arriving snowplow. And it went on and on for hours, well into the night.

Poor Gus.

Since I’m working on writing my memoirs these days, I’m going to be sure to find a place for this story. Are you caught in the tight grip of this nasty winter? Has it stirred some memories of winters past for you? If you are committed to writing your life story, write them down now, while you can still hear the howling reminders of yesterday.

- Kevin Quirk has been helping ordinary women and men write their life stories for almost 20 years in his role as autobiography ghostwriter, book coach, editor, and writing teacher. He is the author of “Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Stories.”