Sunday, January 15, 2023

My Goal for 2023 and Three Books That Inspired Me

"For last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning."
—T.S. Eliot

Do you make resolutions, set goals, or pick a word to follow in the new year?   I usually don't do any beyond the usual random thoughts of "I should exercise more," "I should eat more vegetables," or "I'd like to begin traveling again."   This year, however, I am approaching a new decade birthday and I am determined to keep a goal I've set for myself to begin writing my life story.  

In 2022 my husband and I went through all our old-time photo albums and scanned and uploaded each photo to a cloud service to preserve them all as a project after local Colorado wildfires made us realize how all our photos could be lost forever.  Looking at each photo we felt as if we were reliving our life and all the memories of happy occasions we experienced as we scanned photo after photo. 

It made me realize that every person has an important story to tell, worth passing on along with their photo memories and ancestry records. Someday, perhaps when my grandchildren are approaching my decade of life, they may be interested in reading more about the grandmother and grandfather they remember.  I know I wish I knew more about the details of my grandparents' lives beyond the memories I have of them.

Amazingly, I recently received three books to review from The Book Club Cookbook at the end of last year which helped me formalize this goal. The Book Club Cook Book is a meeting place on the web and social media for publishers, authors, book club members, and readers to connect and share books, book club menu ideas, as well as menus and recipes from favorite authors. I have learned about many wonderful books through them and won many in their giveaways.

The first book I received was Living and Leaving My Legacy- vol 1 by Merle R Saferstein.  A prolific personal journal writer, Ms. Saferstein wrote 380 journals full of her life events over 48 years! She kept her journals locked away from her family, for her eyes only.  As she got older she realized that she ultimately wanted to share many of her thoughts and experiences with her family and friends as part of her legacy and began a project of what will ultimately be a two-volume collection of her journals, covering approximately 70 topics. While her memoir is a somewhat sanitized story of her life, she also gives many ideas and journal prompts in her book that is meant to inspire readers and deepen their life journey. If you are also a lifelong journal keeper this may be a book you would like to read to see how she was able to accomplish the task of condensing the good and bad, the lessons learned, the conversations, encounters, memories, dreams, travel adventures, challenges and breakthroughs of life. 

While I was never a journal keeper I still benefited from reading Ms. Saferstein's book as an example of how to begin writing a record of my life. Her end-of-chapter journal prompts helped make me form an outline for what I want to write and in what order. 

The next book I read was Cobblestones, Conversations, and Corks: A Son's Discovery of His Italian Heritage by Giovanni Ruscitti.  Giovanni Ruscitti is a husband, father, son, and brother. He is also the managing partner of Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti LLP.   A few weeks before his father's passing he asked Giovanni to tell the Ruscitti story, and Giovanni became an author.

The synopsis from the book release:
"In this memoir, Ruscitti visits Cansano, Italy,  for the first time with his family, including parents Emiliano and Maria. As he walks Cansano’s cobblestones, his father’s stories and life are illuminated by the town piazza, the steep valley, and the surrounding mountains. He relives the tales of his parents’ struggles during World War II, their extreme post-war misery and poverty, their budding romance after, and their decision to immigrate to the US in search of the American Dream."
This book was a wonderful gift, as my husband immigrated as a seven-year-old with his parents from a small town in Southern Italy in the 1950s, and many of Mr. Ruscitti's conversations with his parents and journeys back to Italy that he recorded in this memoir were very reminiscent of my husband's life. experiences. It made my husband and me more aware of the value of recording parts of our life in our own voice and perhaps even anticipating the questions our descendants would want to know about us, as we wrote our own life stories.  

So many Americans are many generations removed from their immigrant ancestors and many might not even know facts about how and why they immigrated and the struggles they faced as new arrivals in a foreign country that was now to become home for them and their future generations.  This could be the story of a first-generation son or daughter from any nationality.   I smiled often as I read this book as I recognized my father-in-law in many of the descriptions that Mr. Ruscitti shared about his father.  His story also made me realize the sorrow and sacrifice many felt to leave their family and friends, town and country, language and culture to make a better life for their family in a new land.  Their story needs to be told!

The third book Hereafter -- The Telling of Ellen O'Hara by Vona Groarke brought tears to my eyes and touched my heart. It is a uniquely written record of a great-granddaughter's searching for the immigrant story of her great-grandmother who came to New York City in 1882 to earn wages as a live-in servant girl to send money home to her struggling parents and siblings in Ireland.
Ms. Groake's struggle to tell her great-grandmother's story could also be my story, as I have searched many records trying to find the story of my Irish ancestors, although I had very little information about them, to begin with.  Author Groarke at least had the name of her great-grandmother, while I did not even have that to help in my search for the first of my Irish ancestors who came to America. I have searched online records, censuses, ancestry DNA, cemetery grounds, etc., all hoping to find more of my ancestors' stories. In reading Groake's poignant story about her great-grandmother Ellen O'Hara, I could imagine what I would write if I did find traces of my first American ancestors. If I could imagine and honor their lives by telling their stories the best I could, as Groarke did. I often feel that, sadly, Americans do not know the struggles and prejudices their first American ancestors endured to begin their life here. Their struggles and dreams led to the opportunities their descendants would have one day. Reading the imagined story of Ellen O'Hara, which was presented on one page, along with researched source facts about the life of early Irish immigrant servants and boarding house owners on the opposing page of Groarke's book, helped me understand how the mere fragment of a name could be developed into a life story of one of the many that came to America during the years of the Irish diaspora. This may not be a book everyone would appreciate, but for those struggling to find more about past ancestors, it is an encouragement to keep searching, learning, and imagining.

Books are also a part of our life experiences and I feel so grateful that I had the opportunity to read the three books above that arrived at a time when I was contemplating this goal for the new year.  They were each unique in their format, and messengers of encouragement to me that this was something I need to accomplish.  A verification that however I told my story it would be cherished by my descendants.

I hope you too, dear reader, will write your story and share it with your family! Please let me know what books have encouraged you to do so.

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eileeninmd said...

Hello Pat,

All three books look very interesting. I am going to try to find the last one "Hereafter". Hubby and I decided to travel more recently, we want to visit some places on our bucket list before we won't be able to do any traveling. Live life, have fun. It was a good idea to put all your treasured photos up in the cloud. Good luck and best wishes for your life story goal, sounds awesome.
Take care, have a great new week!

Penny Carlson said...

This sounds like an amazing thing to do. Those books all sound interesting.

Jeanie said...

What a fabulous and admirable project, Pat. This will serve you and those who follow you so well indeed. I'm putting final edits into my family history book, the last few chapters of which connect specifically to my time on this earth and I've been considering doing as you are, since part of it is always written (and probably to be rewritten over and over!) It's a fascinating journey, looking over your life and I applaud your doing this! I'll look forward to updates!

Marilyn @ MountainTopSpice said...

Thank you for sharing these excellent book resources for those who have a story to tell. I lead a writers group and several are writing their family story. I will pass these books on as a help for them. The story you want to write sounds fascinating! Amazon's KDP is where a couple of my writers are going to publish their story. I look forward to hearing more of your writing journey!

Lorrie said...

All three of these books sound interesting, Pat. I am in the midst of writing a memoir of sorts for our children, of our years spent in South America where all three were born and grew up. I was prompted to do so by two boxes of letters given to me by my late mother-in-law who saved every scrap I ever wrote (no email back then). I also have journals to add another layer of input. It's a daunting task, but well worth it.
Your story will be treasured by your family in the years to come.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

So interesting Pat -- the third book most resonated with me as it has been many generations since either side of my family emigrated to this country and the stories of these great-great (etc in some cases) grandparents have been lost to time. I surely related to what you said about your grandchildren someday maybe being interested . You made me think this morning~~ and I appreciate that.

Gillena Cox said...

I find myself lately looking at Netflix movies more than reading book. I found quite a number of classics, books i had read to view as movies.
Have a good week.


Ciao Chow Linda said...

What a wonderful goal for 2023 Pat. You should have joined us for our memoir writing workshop in Italy! I bought that Cobblestones, etc. book and can't wait to read it. Memoirs are my favorite genre of reading.

William Kendall said...

These sound captivating.

Angie said...

Pat - what a terrific, inspiring post! From the first quote (I copied it to share with my daughter) to the books you shared to your poignant description of the reasons you have decided to write your story - I loved it all. I have often thought about writing a book, sometimes a children's book, sometimes something historical. I have become a journal keeper since my retirement - maybe there is something there ... I will check out the Saferstein book as a starting point. Thank you! And thanks for visiting my blog! Good luck with your resolution!

EricaSta said...

A good book is a friend ... Very interesting readings you sharing here. And especially I love the quote of T.S. Eliot. I shall notice.

Thank you for sharing at MosaicMonday.
Have a wonderful week

Rain said...

Hi Pat! I don't do resolutions, I end up "should-ing" all over myself lol...I do choose a word or two as a theme for the new year. I think that writing your story is so important and isn't that what we do on Blogger? Maybe not as personal, but it's there, forever, left as part of our legacy!

Donna Reidland said...

These sound like some fascinating reads and the flowers are beautiful!

stevebethere said...

Nice post the books sound very interesting once I start reading I can't stop till I have finished it heheh!

Thanks for linking by have a readingtastic week 👍

Tom said...

...I'm had worrying about my legacy.

Veronica Lee said...

These sound like captivating reads.

Happy Wednesday, Pat.

Lowcarb team member said...

Thank you for sharing these three books.

Enjoy your week.

all the best Jan

Joanne said...

These all sound so interesting! I wish you luck in writing up your life story. I wish I knew more about my grandparents' or even their parents' lives stories.

handmade by amalia said...

All three of these books sound interesting and a most inspiring goal - good luck!

Sharon Wagner said...

I don't read many memoirs, but I know what I'll call mine if I ever write it: "I don't mind a mango falling on my head, but never a coconut." It's something a man from Belize said while we were siting on the beach. It would be a travel memoir of course!

Laura | Everyday Edits said...

Hi Pat,

Great books and I agree. I am reading Very Valentine and I love the stories of Italian families navigating the traditions of yesterday with today's lives.
Although I connect with the religion I didn't grow up with these familial ties of grandparents.
I have asked my parents to write down their family histories.
My mom did save over a decade of emails between me and my parents when I was a new mom and living in Ohio. She gave them to me last year and they are funny and bring back so many memories. I never knew she kept (printed) everyone.
Great post ! Happy New Year!

betty-NZ said...

Thanks for sharing your link at My Corner of the World this week!