Writing a Legacy
August 12, 2021 § 10 Comments
By Morgan Baker
When I was young, my neighbor, Caroline, in New York City and I created our own private library, before my parents’ separation when I was nine and I moved. We made pockets in which to put library cards in the back of our books and shared them between ourselves.
In the summers after the divorce, I spent hours lying on the scratchy rug at the local library with my cousin Betsy. There, I picked out all the stories about happy families like The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, and Cheaper by The Dozen.
I’m 63 now and aspects of that time still hit my nerve endings. My craving to write stemmed from wanting to tell all my parents how hard the divorce and the subsequent remarriages were on me as a kid and teen. I was lost in the melee of my parents’ acrimonious divorce and the fallout that continued for decades. I wasn’t sure anyone thought about how the children were managing. Well, I would show them. I acted out. I wasn’t welcoming to my stepfather, I was mad at my mother and I missed my father. I don’t remember any conversations between any of my parents and me, about how I was doing. Perhaps my mother worried about my behavior, but her pain colored any objectivity.
Now, writing gives me a voice, one I didn’t have when I was younger. I’m not the most outgoing person, but on the page, I feel safe. When I started writing professionally, it was with feature stories related to parenting, health, travel, growing older, and even business.
I began writing creative nonfiction as a way to understand my life and bring clarity. Essays addressed my childhood, dogs, moving, mothering, and even writing.
I’m now editing a memoir I wrote because I wanted to understand the depression I fell into after my oldest daughter left for college and our family parted with a litter of puppies. Another project of linked essays about my family’s generational history on Martha’s Vineyard sits on my computer, waiting its turn. I wanted to save pieces of my life and that of my family’s, of a time when life there was easier and more casual. I want my daughters to know those stories. I’m drafting another memoir about my move to and from Hawaii as a 60-year-old with my husband. Writing about living on Oahu helps me own that experience and acknowledge how beneficial it can be to take risks at an older age.
Putting our stories down isn’t just about getting them published and going on (perhaps virtual) book tours. Writing also chronicles our lives for those who come after. I hope my memoirs find a wider market, but if they don’t, I’ve helped myself along the way and left a legacy.
Both my father and stepfather are sharing their own life stories now. My father wrote A Pewter Spoon about his childhood, professional, and personal life. Coincidentally, my youngest brother and I decided to interview my stepfather/his father, on his life story.
My relationships with my fathers were not always smooth. Ripples spread from where rocks were skipped, rough and many until they settled with time. Now, the water gently laps the shore where I stand with these two men, 88 and 91. My understanding and compassion for both of them grew with the reading and interview. I know why they both like to putter around their homes, fixing, painting, landscaping. I read about one father’s work that took him away from the kids; I appreciated how hard it was for the other to marry someone with three children.
There is value in writing and/or recording your history to pass on to your children. Sometimes, however, the readers’ memories don’t match the writer’s. Maybe they won’t agree with your view of a particular incident, or they might get sad revisiting their grandmother’s (your mother’s) death, but you thought it was important to chronicle. I want my memoirs to enter the world so readers will know they’re not alone fighting depression, that they too can take a chance on a huge adventure, and that a family’s history is often anchored in a place. If my projects never see an agent’s or editor’s desk, that’s okay, because when my children are ready, they’ll read about my life which, I hope, will enrich theirs. They may have questions that hopefully, I’ll be around to answer, just like I wish I could ask my mother who died in 2005 if she was sorry for the pain the divorce caused her children. More importantly, over time, I’ve forgiven myself for my behavior during my teens and twenties. Writing my story has helped me get there. I wish I could tell my mother about my life.
Morgan Baker writes about dogs, family, writing, moving, aging and places. Work is forthcoming or published in Hippocampus, the Brevity Blog, The Bark, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, Talking Writing, Motherwell, and more. She is the Managing Editor of thebucket.com and teaches at Emerson College where she was honored with the Alan L Stanzler Award for Excellence in Teaching. Morgan also runs private CNF workshops on Zoom. She lives with her husband and two Portuguese Water Dogs in Cambridge.