Recently, my sister sent me several stories she had written about her childhood. She was attending a class teaching adults how to write their life story for their grandchildren.
Bette, a very good writer, is 10 years older than me. I enjoy being the younger sister and especially introducing her as the oldest sibling — in a teasing way, of course.
The fact of the matter is that I am a bit envious of her. I do not know many stories of our family prior to World War II, as I was born after our father’s return from the war. Her stories were not only entertaining but answered many questions about life within our family before I was born.
My parents are now deceased, as are my aunts and uncles. So, I’m out of luck when I have questions about family or events of long ago. My sister’s decision to write a legacy for her descendants, along with my inquisitive mind about our families’ past, led me to research ways to write my own legacy.
I have never been one to keep a journal. Each time I’ve tried, I seem to write more about my feelings than events taking place in my life. So the journals I have kept I have written at the front, “If I should die before I wake, throw this journal in the lake.” I was in desperate need of a way in which to leave a written legacy for my children — stories about my growing-up years and beyond.
When I Googled “how to leave a family legacy,” I became even more confused. There were so many ideas on how to go about writing a legacy. It seemed to me the instructions were more on how to publish your own book. That is not what I had in mind. Many of the instructions seemed so tedious that I would be tempted to set aside my pen and paper and procrastinate about writing forever.
Perhaps many feel the same way. But leaving something for those to read about us who come behind us seems important. When we die, we take so much information with us — forever.
After pondering the situation, I began to remember several stories I’ve enjoyed reading. The two that came to mind could give readers ideas on how to write uncomplicated stories of their lives to their children.
One was a book written by Joy Smith, Cooper Creek Baptist Church: The First 140 Years, Standing Firm. In that book, members and former members of the Cooper Creek community wrote short stories about their life. Some of the stories were funny, some were sad, and others were inspiring. They all seemed to be from the heart. The book has been very popular, not only among those who lived in the Cooper Creek community but among others who enjoy history. I’ve encouraged Smith to write a continuation of the book. A limited number of copies are available through Smith.
A good legacy letter I’ve read was written by my late mother-in-law, Hattie Rainey. It was written to Kati, our youngest daughter, and given to her quite unexpectedly. Kati had given her grandmother a book for Mother’s Day that required her to answer questions about her years growing up and how she felt about different situations in life. Known for doing things her way, Hattie sat down with a pen and a tablet and wrote Kati a 10-page letter about her life in her own handwriting.
She started by describing the circumstances of her birth on a farm near Springtown that was recently sold after being in the family for over 100 years. She wrote about her siblings, adding some funny and a few sad stories.
Then, she wrote about how her father, a farmer, sold his only horse and saddle so his eldest daughter, Mary, could come to the University of North Texas, then North Texas Teachers College. And how she followed, later meeting her husband, Kati’s grandfather, in Denton. She mentioned her sons graduating from college and marrying, and how it felt to become a grandmother. This letter has become one of Kati’s most cherished possessions.
The first step in writing the letter would be to make an outline. Using a computer would certainly help if you experience arthritis in your hands, as I do.
But if you have the ability to write the letter in your own handwriting, it would certainly add volumes of sentimental value to the keepsake.
Most important for the writer and the reader, keep it simple. Remember, you are not writing for publication, you are writing from your experiences and your heart. You do not have to have every sentence grammatically correct. Just convey your thoughts the best you remember them and in a way in which you would like to be remembered.
If you are a very detailed person and wish to write a book as a legacy to your children, that is perfectly all right. But if you simply want to leave thoughts and a few stories in letter form about yourself, your gift also will be cherished. The most important thing is to leave, in writing, a story of your life for the next generation to get a glimpse of who you were.
I would imagine of all the gifts you could leave, a letter describing your life would be one of the most priceless gifts you could leave your family.
PAM RAINEY is a longtime Denton resident and a real estate agent who has helped many seniors make decisions about living arrangements. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 940-293-3117.