Over the last few months, possibly because my life has been so nomadic and disorganized, I have been seriously questioning whether it was really worth the trouble to write my memoir. No one in my family seemed especially interested in what I was doing, so why knock myself out?
In June 2007 I attended a memoir writing workshop at the North Toronto Library. This course was given by Allyson Latta. Apparently many people had telephoned in response to the advert in the paper, and as it was also advertised in “What’s On?” in the library system, we were all told that it was oversubscribed. So I was delighted, after a few weeks, to receive a phone call to tell me I had been accepted — and was asked if I was serious about participating. I agreed that I was, and promised to attend regularly.
I enthusiastically showed up, and learned so much from the four lectures and exercises. After this, spurred on by another workshop participant, Celine, 5 of us from a class of about 20 decided that we wanted to continue meeting regularly, to try to encourage each other, hopefully to give and receive constructive advice, and presuming that a time frame would keep us working more diligently. We formed a writers’ group and named ourselves WALRUS (“Writers of Allyson Latta are Us.”) Our selection method for this elite set was a little unorthodox, but we ended up by becoming the group we wanted.
Over the last 18 months it has been interesting to discover so much about each other, our talents, strengths and weaknesses, and to have formed this tightly-knit quintet — caring and supportive. It has not always been easy to find a date and a time that was mutually suitable, but we somehow muddled along, and usually arrived on time, clutching our work — straight off the press or, literally, the computer!
On the 2nd of November my husband — or more correctly my ex-husband — Sidney, died in Johannesburg, South Africa. He had been in my life from the time I was 16 — 62 years in fact. We were engaged when I was 18 and married when I was 19. We eventually divorced after 40 years of marriage, but remained very close as friends, parents and grandparents.
The last time I spoke to him was on my birthday, 7th of July, when he phoned to give me his good wishes, and when I inquired about his health, he complained of a pain in his hip. I told him to attend to this problem and said I would phone him for his birthday on the 20th to see how he was.
Alas, that was our last conversation, as a couple of days later he was taken into hospital after falling in the shower, and was in various other hospital systems with many challenging health problems until he died four months later.
My son, David, who was in Johannesburg, had the responsibility of looking after him, and he did a valiant task. Both he and Sidney agreed that during that time they were able to grow closer emotionally – so it seems as though everything, however hard, has its reason.
I was in almost daily touch with David, and when it came time for the service and prayers, David phoned me and said, “Was Dad’s mother also born in Glasgow?” — Well, she wasn’t, she was born in Adelaide, Australia, and his father was actually born in Russia and only went to Scotland as a young boy. So I corrected these facts. Then David asked me other details — about Sidney’s life at school, at university and then as a pilot in the Air Force — and I was able to give him all the information he needed as well as several anecdotes. It felt so strange that I couldn’t be physically there during that time, and so I wrote my personal tribute to Sidney, and so did Anne, my daughter, and these were read out at the service by my niece. Family and friends have either written or called me to say how meaningful the tributes were to them.
Afterwards I asked David to send me his eulogy, and also one written by his daughter, Joanna, who had gone to South Africa, from England, to support her father. When I read David’s very moving contribution, I was amazed to recognize how much of what I had told him recently had been included. And I realized then, very strongly, that it was important for me to write down all this information — about his life and mine — as when I go, who will be able to fill in the gaps, and join the dots?
So my question was answered.
It is worth the trouble. And, our WALRUS group, we have a job to do — and I thank you for helping me on my journey.
Copyright December 2008 Sonia Goodman.
Bio and update from Sonia, July 2010:
I was born in Cape Town, and from the age of nine until eighteen was raised and educated in England. As these were the war years, and I was in boarding school, my upbringing was not very straight forward. After returning to the country of my birth, I got married and raised three wonderful children. I have been living in Canada for 27 years and am very proud to be Canadian, albeit an unusual one, as I don’t drink coffee, loathe doughnuts, and have never embraced (or understood) ice hockey, baseball, basketball or ice-fishing! The loss of my youngest son, Peter, 8 years ago, was the most devastating experience in life, but I have been blessed with nine incredible grandchildren. My most notable birthday was three years ago when on 07-07-07 I turned 77. But I have just celebrated my 80th birthday and my family threw me a wonderful bash, with international food and drink to reflect my own and my family’s multinational makeup. Our WALRUS group is now three years old. We still meet every three weeks (thank you, Allyson, for your inspiration) and I am never at a loss to write about some episode from my life.