The Danger of Memoir

I finally finished the memoir I started back in the 60s, the story of the five years, childhood into early adolescence, when my family lived above our corner grocery store. I’m performing the usual hellish ritual of sending queries around and hoping that some of the possibles will become actuals.

I wish I could say it doesn’t matter, that I had to write the book anyway, that it’s been bubbling away in my heart and soul since, well, when? Since the day I first saw the place? Since we moved back to “our” neighborhood and my parents took on a carless commute back and forth across town to the store? Since I left Minneapolis and moved to Chicago to be a grownup? Since the freeway careened through the neighborhood and buried the store along with everything else? Probably since I realized I’d never said a proper goodbye to the country where I came of age.

So there it is. Several hundred manuscript pages of events and people and smells and sounds I’d never expected to remember so wholly.

As I got closer to a final draft, the memories got stunningly vivid. And the homesickness I’d been suppressing all these decades lodged somewhere between my throat and my gut and wouldn’t go away. My parents are gone. My aunts and uncles are gone. My high school and the store and the last house I lived in are gone. Minneapolis itself has changed so much. The downtown is unrecognizable. So is the crime rate. But those lakes and parks and the summer’s humid heat and the winter’s snow and arctic cold are all still there.

Whenever I go to visit, not often enough, I feel it. The pull of the place where I first breathed the air and crawled in the sand and played in the lake water. The names are powerful reminders of family and old friends. Cedar Lake, Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet, Minnehaha Falls. The Mississippi River.

Like a salmon swimming upstream. Upstream from the perfect climate, meteorological and social, of Sonoma County. From the area where I’ve lived for most of my adult life. Twice as long as I lived in Minneapolis.  

A cellular urge to go home. Memoirs are dangerous.



4 Responses

  1. Shelley, this is wonderful. I love it! Keep writing and sending–never mind the danger. I published a memoir once and my kids called it fiction! Well, the greater truth was there, even if we disagreed about the facts. I love the “picture” of your corner grocery store, and share in your sense of nostalgia and homesickness.

  2. Very much hoping you have success in getting it published, as I’d like very much to read it. (MN Historical Society sometimes publishes work like this — might be worth a try.) Best of luck!

    • Thanks for the good wishes. I have it at the University Press there now, but this is an excellent idea! I’ll contact the historical society.

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