healing haven

June 29, 2008

Antique Gold Coins

Filed under: appreciation,healing,memoir — by thalia @ 8:09 am
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           Originally, I started writing to uncover what lay buried in the mud within me.  As a child, there were things I could write about that I wouldn’t dare say out loud, things needing to be brought out into the open so as not to fester deep inside me, developing into a volcano.  My diary was my best friend for many years.  I would write as I huddled in my cubbyhole in the attic eaves, a place designed for storage but used as a private space for me.  Flashlight in hand, a book to read and a diary to write in—all comprised my comfort area.  Perhaps, sometimes, I would be lucky enough to have an Army-green can of cinnamon swirled pound cake, rations left over from World War II that my father acquired years later. Reading, writing, eating—all the comforts for a shy young girl needing an outlet for her emotions and a safe haven. 


One day, in the eighth grade, the assignment was to write about a hobby we enjoyed and how we became involved in that hobby.  I wrote all about being in my grandparents’ very old, rambling house, with the rickety staircase going up into the musty attic.  On one rainy day I was continuing my exploration of the house.  While rummaging in the attic, I discovered a collection of coins in an old, tea-colored and stained box, tucked away in a hidden nook.  When I brought them downstairs and questioned my grandfather, I found out the assorted coins belonged to his grandfather.  My grandfather added a few more when he found them as a boy, but then the collection was once again hidden away.  We looked at the coin collection together and, as he told me about the individual coins, I became interested not only in the history revealed about the coins themselves but also about the history of my ancestors.  So I continued collecting coins and relished the feeling of being part of a long line of people who engaged in this hobby. 


I finished writing just as the teacher called for the papers to be handed in.  I felt good about what I had written. 


However, I couldn’t sleep at all that night.  I tossed and turned so much I gave myself a headache.  I agonized.  How terrible!  How could I have done that?  Thoughts raced through my head and collided with each other, creating pain in my head.  What is wrong with me?   None of what I wrote was true.  I made up the whole story about collecting coins, and I had no idea why I did.  I didn’t remember reading something similar in any of the many books I read.  How could I have written such a lie?  Why did I?  By the next morning I was a wreck and my stomach was in knots.  I couldn’t eat breakfast and dreaded going to school yet I also couldn’t wait to get to school to admit to the English teacher it was all a lie.  With many false starts and gulps, sweaty hands and a flushed face, I finally told her.  None of what I had written was true.  I was sure I would at least wind up with a detention and my parents would be told. 


Much to my surprise, my usually extremely strict and exacting English teacher said it was perfectly all right.  She read the stories and found mine to be well-written so I received an ‘A.’ The fact I lied made no difference—it was the use of grammar and the way the story was told that was important.  She said the story was a far more interesting way to start a hobby than the other students’ stories were.  And she appreciated why I felt I had to tell her the truth.


Since then, the many kernels of writing excitement have popped open to reveal a poem, a memoir, a story, a book.  As I delve into memoir writing, I still agonize over trying to dig out the truth rather than use a fabrication.  I read of getting to the emotional truth rather than necessarily the factual truth.  Does it really matter if the curtains were white or yellow that day 50 years ago or is the important memory the feel and smell of the starched curtain (white or yellow) to remind you of your Grandmother’s living room?  William Zinsser speaks of “inventing the truth,” of acknowledging we write of the truth as we know it, not necessarily as anyone else knows it.   Bill Roorbach says, “The reader also comes expecting that the writer is operating in good faith, that is, doing her best to get the facts right.”  And, of course, the recent controversy about James Frey’s work continues. 


Over the years, writing has become a connector, a healer, a transmission, a memory organizer, a revealer, a storyteller.  Writing allows for patterns to be discovered, for healing threads to be woven into a wondrous tapestry with loose ends reconnected, for stories and ideas to be passed on to future generations, for the awareness of not only who, what, when and where but also why and how and what were the feelings and the lessons learned.  Writing has revealed preciously hidden meanings and patterns in a tapestry much richer that I could ever imagine.


I have written enough now to realize I am the pot of gold buried at the end of the rainbow, with each memoir or story or poem an antique gold coin, worth more in the present because it is based on an experience from the past.  Added together, these gold pieces provide a treasure for my future as well as for those of my children, grandchildren and others.  If I hadn’t dug up these memories and experiences, I would have lost them forever.  They may be covered with the remains of dirt, and some may be a little discolored and faded, but the glint of gold still peeks through.  After a little polishing and cleaning up, these antique gold coins will be worth a fortune.

              – published in Story Circle Journal – 2007 –


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