Recently for the first time I started a project that takes the opposite tack. Two sisters in their early seventies asked me to help them with a joint memoir. In this case it’s the first part of their story that represents a shared experience, as each one describes an individual perspective on their parents, their relatives, their neighborhood, and their childhood. Later in the narrative they go their separate ways, living in different states, marrying, raising children.
Because the primary goal of the sisters’ project is to explore their parents’ lives and values, it’s particularly interesting to work this way. Though they lived in the same household growing up, the two women had very different childhood experiences. Most notable to them is that during several summers of their girlhood, they were sent to different relatives for long stays. One sister went to their grandparents' farm, where she lived as an “only child” fussed over by numerous aunts and uncles as well as her grandparents. Meanwhile, the other sister was sent to the household of an aunt who had five children of her own to raise and lived under the aunt’s strict maternal oversight amidst a horde of temporary brothers and sisters.
Until the two women approached me about working with them, I had never thought about doing a project with siblings, but now that I’m immersed in it, I’m finding it fascinating. It’s no surprise that siblings have different perspectives on the same situation, of course, but usually I find this out only when I work with one member of a family and others later read the memoir and tell me how they remember things differently. This time I’m getting to tell the same stories from both voices at the same time.
It occurs to me also that this might be a beneficial idea for would-be memoir clients who are shy about putting themselves in the spotlight. As I often say, people in their seventies, eighties and nineties come from a modest generation; sometimes even despite their children’s entreaties, they are too humble to feel comfortable sitting down and telling me the story of their life. But, done with a sibling, it becomes a shared project and even a bonding experience, as two people learn the ways in which they remember their pasts similarly and also differently. Plus it’s fun, at least for these two; they feed off each other’s stories and have fun sparking one another’s memories.
Do you have a sister, cousin or other close relative you can imagine doing a joint memoir project with? Are you curious to hear how other people in your family might remember the same experiences or situations as you differently? Contact me any time to talk about the possibilities!