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I Want Them to Know by Seymour Eliesen

“Dad, I don’t really know you” began the conversation I had a few years back with Michael, my eldest son. This made me realize that I want to tell my children, grandchildren and the rest of my family about my life when I was a toddler, teenager, young adult, maturing parent, and now a senior. I want them to know what it was like for me. I needed to jump-start my memory.

I rented a tiny, secluded cabin appropriately named SHALOM, Hebrew for “peace.” The wooden structure was musty, without running water or electricity, and I loved it. My guests were a family of Canada Geese, chattering red squirrels, hummingbirds, blue jays, and a red fox that the owner told me was named Daisy Mae.

So on a warm day in July 2007, a bright sun beaming infrared rays into my body, I set up a folding table and chair in a field surrounded by yellow buttercups with the crystal waters of Aylen Lake on one side and the forest treeline on the other. I opened my coil-bound notebook, remembered to apply number 30 sunscreen, as I’m not stupid, and with pen in hand, I began to write. I wrote and wrote. I had a great time recording every memory I could recall.

In the middle of the afternoon, dark, ominous clouds appeared out of nowhere and within ten minutes a heavy downpour interrupted my writing. The thundershower was brief. To my pleasure, as the clouds moved to the west a beautiful double rainbow appeared. It seemed a sign to go on with my story.

I’ve continued to write about events I’ve experienced, people I’ve known, and what life was like for me “in the olden days.” I’ve developed a real passion for Life Story Writing.

Telling stories has taken a number of forms for me. Some are primarily documentary in nature, recording various details of life and the times for posterity. Others are about aspects of my family background and heritage of which my children and grandchildren are not aware. My writings have become a learning and healing process and before I’m done I’ll write how I have grown from this. Some stories are quite personal, and may not be finished or shared for decades. My favourites, the ones that are the most fun to write, are vignettes of specific times, about the neighbourhood where I grew up, friends, happy occasions, sad ones, when I became a hippie, and then a farmer.

As I write, I’m finding that decorating the stories with photos, a family tree, old documents, recipes and whatever else strikes my fancy brings the level of my storytelling up a notch. I’ve gone to the Internet for some photos and artwork and I’ve researched libraries for other bits of information. I’ve interviewed cousins, former employers, business associates and friends. I had never thought that being involved in this task would give me so much satisfaction and enjoyment. To leave a legacy like this for my family makes me feel very proud of myself. There is an inner artist in me that I wasn’t fully aware was there.

People ask if these stories are true. The answer to that question is yes, and the answer is also no. Sometimes my brother reads a story I’ve written and says, “That’s not what happened at all.” I generally grin and reply, “Write your own story!”

These stories represent my memory of what happened and what the events meant to me. Therein lies their truth. In the end, the value of memories is the meaning they hold for us. But these are more than memories, they are stories. Beyond the twists of memory, storytellers learn not to let a few puny facts get in the way of a good tale.

Seymour Eliesen was born and raised in the 1940s in the St. Urbain Street district of Montreal. The first son of working class Jewish immigrants, he went to Baron Byng High School. At 15 he began a successful 52-year career in the apparel industry. He and his second wife, Lydia, were back-to-the-land organic farmers in the 1970s. Seymour is writing his memoirs as a gift to his children and grandchildren for his 75th birthday.

Editor’s note: Seymour participated in my North York Central Library workshop series as well as my online workshop on dialogue writing. In January 2009, he travelled to Santiago, Chile, to take part in the workshop series I led for Los Parronales Writers’ Retreat.