Family Lines

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Tag: Poland

Young and Restless Anne

Anne and Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables.

Photo credit: norika21

Almost every weekday at four o’clock in the afternoon, I stop work and watch the Young and the Restless. It’s my dirty secret. The silly show is a nice break and the story arcs are so fantastical they’re ludicrous. Except for a couple of weeks ago when a scene sparked a Christmas memory: Anne of Green Gables made an appearance on the show.

Yes, Y&R is a soap so I wouldn’t fault you if you thought Anne Shirley was actually brought on as a real-life character. But no, she stayed in word form. A little Y&R girl, Faith, couldn’t sleep and her stepmother (young Faith’s fifth or sixth stepmother) told her that when she was a child, her mother would read to her to help her get drowsy. The stepmother, Sage, then got a book from a shelf and said it was Anne of Green Gables.

Sage started reading the first paragraph of the first book that begins with:

Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.

That almost put me to sleep too. Because it’s boring.

When I was about eight years old, my parents gave me a box set of Anne of Green Gables for Christmas. They also gave my sisters and me a tape recorder. (The tape recorder was the iPhone of our time.) The tape recorder was cool and I couldn’t wait to play with it. My parents suggested I read Anne of Green Gables into the recorder. Judging the book by its cover (a pastoral scene with two girls walking hand in hand) I thought it looked fine. I cracked the spine of the soft cover book and began reading aloud the same passage Sage read to Faith.

While I didn’t get to see Faith’s reaction, mine was one of disappointment. This book was going to be super boring. I liked the C.S. Lewis Narnia books: full of action and adventures in unknown worlds. Who was this Mrs. Rachel Lynde and who cared about the stupid brook?

I couldn’t get into the cast of characters who lived in the pages. They were not coming alive in my imagination. I read a couple more paragraphs aloud and captured my voice on cassette tape. (We still have it somewhere at home.) Then I put the book down and put in an ABBA tape to listen to.

I used the tape recorder a lot over the years but it took a while to get back to Anne. She wasn’t someone I wanted to get know right away. Then one day, I picked up the book and pushed past the beginning and something magical happened. Anne became my bosom buddy. I wanted puff sleeve. I fell in love with Gilbert Blythe. I cried my heart and eyes out when Matthew died. It was a sad day too when I finished the last Anne book.

Children before me and after me and everywhere in the world feel the same way about Anne. One of my memoir clients who grew up in Poland in the fifties read Anne of Green Gables. Lucy Maud Montgomery gave us a place to go with a girl who knows what it’s like to not fit in and who gets in trouble without meaning to. Ann with an e was our best friend when we didn’t have one and our escape from school and life. She never changes no matter who is reading about her. Even if Faith gets another stepmother, she’ll always have Anne.

 

Not just your story

Friends.

Photo credit: Omwoods

As a memoir writer I recount many, many interesting stories. Stories about growing up in Germany during the Second World War. Stories about conducting surgeries in Baghdad when bombs are flying through the air and could hit you and your patient at any time. Stories about escaping Cold War Poland and building a new life in Canada. What all these stories have in common are they are not just about the person telling the tales and anecdotes. These stories are about everyone who came into contact with the narrator, good and bad.

You might think telling your life story means you’re the sole focus of the tale and it’s all about you. But we didn’t shape ourselves. We had mothers and fathers and siblings and relatives and friends and strangers and even animals help make us who we are. Without these people our memoirs would just be one long stream of consciousness. A bunch of thoughts strewn on the page. A journal entry and not a story.

One of my client’s didn’t talk a lot about her father, who has been dead for many decades. Her dad was, of course, a major part of her life but we only had a few anecdotes about him. Then the client’s husband died in May and through her recent grief she was able to tell me about her father dying, almost 60 years ago. The sadness she felt today let her come to terms with what happened a long time ago. She has told me a lot more about her dad and he’s a major part of her story now too.

The characters in our lives come in all shapes and forms – the kind grandmother, the angry aunt, the mixed-up parent, the sarcastic brother and the thoughtful friend. They all feature in our narratives. Use them to add colour to your tales. They’ll make your stories that much richer.

 

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