Christmas is a few days away and I hope you’re not scrambling to get last-minute presents. If you are, I have a suggestion: Instead of fighting the crowds at the mall, write a legacy letter. Instead of shelling out megabucks for this and that, you’ll have a Christmas gift from the heart.
A legacy letter is a collection of your thoughts to a loved one. You can write anything, from how much you appreciate him/her to an experience you want remembered. You can even add a favourite recipe or attach photos and songs. Here are some step-by-step directions for you to get started.
Get your laptop/computer/tablet/phone/pen and paper.
Go somewhere comfortable — ideally, somewhere you won’t be interrupted. (That means putting your phone on silent and/or telling others not to talk to you for half an hour.)
Here are some prompts to get you going:
Those are only suggestions. You can write whatever you want. The next step is, well, writing. Writing is work but don’t let that deter you. You’ll be surprised at how much you can jot down in half an hour.
Don’t worry about spelling mistakes and grammar in your first draft. Just get your thoughts on the page. Let the words spill out and fill the empty space. Don’t edit yourself by thinking you have to use big words and long sentences: short stories are great too. You don’t need some giant, fantastic event to make a compelling letter. Sometimes, the simplest moments are the best – moments like your family sitting around the supper table trading stories or the smell of your grandmother’s scones cooking on the griddle.
Once you have your thoughts and stories down on the page, leave it for a couple of hours. Then go back to it and see if you need to take anything out or add anything.
Next, spell check your document. Once that’s done, read your piece aloud. That’s really helpful when looking for missing words or words that are spelled correctly but aren’t supposed to be there. (I always type “clam” instead of “calm.”)
Print your letter and put it in an envelope and you’re done. If you want to e-mail your piece, you can schedule it to arrive in a mailbox on Christmas Day. You won’t be just giving a gift, you’ll be leaving a legacy that will make the recipient feel loved any day of the year.
“At school we painted pictures,” he says.
“I can make super-sonic laser beams come out of my eyes.”
“Can I take Jasper out for a walk?”
Andy is annoying me with all his talking. I want to tell him to shut up but I won’t. He’s only seven years old.
Andy is my foster brother. He stays with my family on weekends. Mom and Dad decided to become foster parents since all their kids have grown up and moved away for university. I admire the fact that my parents are doing something for children who need help and love but it’s Christmas. I don’t want Andy around. I want my Mom and Dad all to myself because I’ve been away for four months and have a lot to tell them.
Andy never stops chattering. He follows me around telling me about his latest ninja adventure.
“Me and the ninjas hang out a lot. We just went and beat up some bad guys real bad. They’ve got blood coming out of their noses,” he says.
Andy’s mum doesn’t like him. In fact, she hates him. She never asks how school was or looks at him or kisses him goodnight.
He likes coming to our house because we don’t hit. He said that once. He likes coming to our house because we don’t ignore him. He said that too.
A friend and I were catching up during that same holiday Andy was part of my family. After Katherine and after our coffees, we found a kitten behind the café. It was a freezing cold Saturday and it took a long time to capture the baby. Every time Katherine and I got close she would dart into the brambles.
I managed to catch her when she climbed a tree and was too weak to get very far.
I put the kitten in the car and she howled all the way home. She was starving and wild and scared. At my house I gave her some warm milk and mush to eat. I cleaned her up and she’s beautiful. She tried to snuggle into my collarbone. She looked up at me asking for love with her enormous eyes. She made me cry. She made me put Andy into perspective.
Andy is like the kitten, abandoned and scared. He wants attention and love, except he’s not cute and cuddly. He’s a skinny little boy. He can’t fit into the nook of my shoulder. So he talks constantly to get people to notice him, even if all they’re going to say is be quiet.
After this revelation I try to be nicer to Andy. We walk through the woods together. I show him how to play the piano and how to build a house out of Lego. But he still keeps talking.
My head is full of different types of memories. Some are good memories, like playing hockey on the pond with my dad or my mom taking me to get my ears pierced. Other memories are sad, like when I had to say goodbye to my friends and move to a new community a couple of hundred kilometres away. I also have memories about things that once didn’t made sense to me but I’ve since clarified them over the years.
In Westville, NS in the mid-70s, there was still a milkman. Carton and jugs of milk were sold in the store but the milkman also delivered milk in glass bottles to homes around town. My family’s house even had a cut-out in the wall of our entryway for the milk. Every morning my parents put out a sign that either said “No” (they didn’t want milk) or “Yes” (they wanted milk). When the milk came, the full bottles were put on the shelf in the entry way. The milk was kept fresh with a cap, a cap that had No. 1 written on it. When six-year-old me read that, I was confused.
Huh? No one is supposed to drink the milk? Why not? I asked my parents about this and they explained to me that the N and the O were short form for the word number. The milk people were declaring their milk as Number One – the best milk to drink. Oh. Sure?
Apartheid was another thing I struggled to understand. Dad and me (I might have been seven) were shopping for a birthday present for mom and we went into a nice store. I found a glorious shiny brass plate and thought I had struck gold. It was perfect.
“No,” said Dad. “This was made in South Africa. We don’t buy anything from there.”
“Because of apartheid. The government there doesn’t treat black people fairly.”
I’m sure my father gave me a more lengthy history lecture but I couldn’t understand why this South Africa would treat its people terribly. However, the lesson was learned and my world both widened and shrank at the news that not everyone is treated equally.
Red Skelton’s name was a head-scratcher for me as a kid. On a March break trip to Florida, my family was visiting John’s Pass, a touristy fishing village. Red Skelton, the comedian and early TV performer, had an exhibition of his art there and was also there in person.
“I just met Red Skelton!” said my mother.
I had interpreted the artist’s name as Red Skeleton. Why was mom so excited to see a bloody skeleton? How was this guy even alive?
“He’s a clown who paints clowns.”
That did not make the image in my head any better.
Knowlton Nash is another figure I had a hard time figuring out many years before I became a journalist myself. When my family was in Ottawa staying at the Chateau Laurier, Nash was staying at the same hotel. There was some sort of world conference going on and the CBC anchor was either covering it or part of it. My mom spotted him in the hotel gift shop.
“There’s Knowlton Nash!”
Nolltown Gnash? I looked over the man my mother was (covertly) staring at and saw a blond haired man with huge glasses. He’s an icon in the media world where I’d end up later in life but as a tween girl, I had no idea why this man was worthy of being recognized. And what was up with those mammoth glasses?
Nowadays, I can just google anything that muddles my brain. But back then, when computers took up a lot more space than the palm of my hand, I had to work things out for myself, skeletons and all. Interestingly enough though, my own last name never caused me any nor my playground playmates any confusion.
“Tell me a story, Lea Storry!” they’d shout to me at recess.
Thankfully, my parents didn’t call me Rita.
What do ghost writers have in common?
They all use invisible ink.
The ghost above is Oscar Wilde. He was an Irish writer who wrote in the 1880s. You probably know The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest: these are just two of his works.
When meeting Kristy Thackeray, the first thing you’ll notice is her big smile. The second thing is how friendly she is to everyone: she really cares about people. Kristy was a participant in one of my Chinook Learning Services memoir writing classes last fall and she went out of her way to comfort those who got teary-eyed while sharing their life stories. It was only when she began to share her own writing that I realized how much this woman has been through. It is truly unbelievable what Kristy has experienced and yet she still manages to be a positive and empathetic person. She is putting her life story into a book, which I have the honour of editing. Here is Kristy in her own words introducing her memoir.
My book chronicles my journey of requiring a heart transplant. May 25, 1996 I was granted a wish from the Children’s wish foundation – to meet country superstar Reba McEntire. My family and I arrive in Texas and the unthinkable happens: A heart has been found. My family and I need to get back to Edmonton, AB – NOW!
While I am receiving a life-saving heart transplant, another family is dealing with the loss of a loved one: a daughter, sister, cousin, niece and friend. I received Dawn Marie Tremblay’s heart on May 26, 1996 (Dawn’s birthday). It would take some years for our families to meet. But meet we did, five years later when I became pregnant with twins at 19 (Dawn talked about having twins!)
It was a miracle and I was the first heart transplant patient to deliver twins. Two years after the Miracle Twins were born, one of my girls developed symptoms that were concerning. Tests confirmed my worst fear – my daughter had the same rare heart disease and required a heart transplant. Twelve years later, my daughter is doing amazing! I think about her donor family every day and I wish so badly I could meet them.
In my book, I share my discouragements and small victories along with insight into a world that is filled with medical tests, terms and equipment. When my memoir is available for purchase, I hope you will get yourself a copy. This book is for anyone who wants to laugh and cry as I share my journey of having a heart transplant; because that is truly when my life began.
Amazingly my donor family has also contributed to the book and shared their experiences of losing their daughter and the process of organ donation.
If you would like more information about my book please visit my Facebook page. Also share with your friends.
Some of the proceeds from my book will be used to develop a support program for Donor families. Something that is really needed in Alberta!
Not all of us have happy memories to write about. There are those of us who have painful secrets and keep them buried deep down so the thistles and thorns won’t poke through our skin. One of my clients though, is facing her past, demons and all, in her memoir.
The client has committed to reliving a tumultuous and damaging childhood by putting words down on a page. She has had the courage to write her story and she’s come a long way since being forced to be an adult at a young age. Her next big step is to tell her family about the book, her biggest hurdle as an author.
I wrote a couple of things to my client, which she liked. She put my words on a photo and sent it to me. I’m happy to share the image below. When she is done her book, I’ll be sure to post a link to it. You’ll want to read it.
I submitted a story for Bloodlines a Canada Writes contest. It asks you to dig through the pages of your family’s past and share a compelling story from your bloodline. Well, I’m not sure if this is what they’re looking for but this is what I wrote: http://bit.ly/1bE3Vuq