Inspired by my parents writing their story together in what became The Black Book, I began to think that my wife and I should write our own story together for our kids to have. I knew there would be much more time for this after I retired and that this would be a fun retirement project to jointly work on but I was afraid that if I waited until then to start writing, that some of my memories would be lost forever. My wife, who has an incredible memory, didn’t share this fear.
The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that our kids would one day appreciate us writing down these stories. And with the advantage of modern-day word processors and self-publishing tools my parents didn’t have access to, I would be able to incorporate old photos throughout the story rather than just at the end that would add visual appeal to the finished book. So in January 2008, I undertook this project.
The first step was to decide how I wanted to structure the book. In my parent’s book, the first two chapters were their individual stories leading up to the time they met, dated, and were married. Then following that, each subsequent chapter covered their lives together at each of the churches that my dad served throughout his career. At some point during my thought process, I recognized that my own life was naturally broken down into these very same time frames and so chose that as my starting point.
The only problem was that I had no childhood memories of the town in which I was born and lived in until I was almost 4 years old. But undeterred, I set out to try to recall what I could.
My first chapter encompassed the time in my birthplace, Natchitoches. After a preliminary introduction about how my birth was announced from the pulpit by my dad just hours after my early Sunday morning arrival, I wrote:
“I have very few actual memories of my childhood in Natchitoches and most of them I have now are from visits there as an adult, from my siblings and from my parents.”
I then went on to tell several stories about myself that I in fact had no memory of but that had been relayed to me either by my parents or my sisters. It turned out to be a very short chapter, less than 4 pages long with 1.5 line spacing. I then gave it to my wife to read who has been my dedicated proofreader for over 30 years and who in my opinion, is an accomplished writer herself.
I must admit that having studied to become a scientist, literary writing and even proper grammar and sentence structure was not something I studied much or mastered. In my career, I have done a lot of technical writing but much like automobile owner’s manuals, do not make for pleasurable reading. Having written over 150 blog posts by now, I like to think that my writing has dramatically improved. But in 2008, I didn’t have that experience from which to draw.
Now almost 10 years later, I don’t recall my wife’s exact words but suffice it to say they were not encouraging. I mulled this feedback over for a few days and then in spite of really wanting to write this story, I gave it up.
Fortunately, I didn’t delete the file but just left it dormant on my computer.
Three years after my halted attempt at replicating my own “Black Book”, my niece (I only have one as boys outnumber girls 5:1 among my siblings children) created a new treasure when she published an updated version of the Black Book that she gave to her mother (my oldest sister) for Christmas that year.
For this version, my niece retyped the entire contents of the original book into an easy-to-read landscape format.
With the aid of the commercial skills of her husband, scanned, retouched, and improved the original old photos my parent’s included in their book as well as adding some new photos not previously included.
And for the family trees, added a visual perspective to the names by including scanned photos of our ancestors.
Although I’m not technically as skilled as my niece or her husband, her version of the Black Book showed me what high quality a self-published professional book could look like. I was impressed with their version 2 and it got me thinking again about writing my own Black Book.
To be continued…