Monthly Archives: March 2014

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…”
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.”