Okay, so I have an interesting idea for a book and I am all excited to get started. But how to actually get started? I have tried to launch into all sorts of writing projects in the past and then became so overwhelmed they quietly got shelved and I’d go back to reading good writers and eating cookies. Maybe I’d had better ask my mother.
Interview my mother, that is. And my aunt. Both are still alive and both have as close a relationship to Telegraph Cove as possible, being progeny of its first matriarch and having grown up there. They have good memories of both their mother and grand-mother, who were key to the purchase and development of the Cove over its first 7 decades. They were children there during the Depression, adolescents during the second World War, young women during the post-war boom times, and mothers coking up for visits during the 1960s and 1970s, when the Cove’s mill was in its production heyday. They also have boxes of photos, documents, letters, books and other memorabilia that will provide me with valuable context and details.
So I made an appointment with each, separately. And thus discovered the first challenge of writing a history based on memory. Even for those with lucid memories and sharp minds, memories are subjective and elusive. One will remember something quite clearly, and another might not remember it at all, or remember it differently. This year, quite certainly. Was it this year or that year? I was 8. She was 10. We were here. We were there. Sometimes. Never. Maybe. I don’t recall.
So one interview became a series of interviews. I’d set a specific question and let them answer in their own time and in their own way, gleaning other intelligence along the way. They knew so much; it became my job to trap information as it trundled by. We went through photos and old documents together and that jogged more memories. I found out who the key people were in the ‘old’ days and how old family stories fit within factual history.
The best part was spending that time together, especially with my own mother, who got to hog the spotlight while my father made us tea. This is significant, I thought, for an 80+ year old woman to be listened to; her life, and those of her mother and grand-mother, brought forward and recorded. Half of the population of the last century (and many centuries before) spent most of their lives working indoors, hidden and underestimated and unpaid. My light bulb moment came: “I think I have something here”, a true reason to write these biographies. It’s not just about recording what life was like for women living in a tiny, isolated coastal hamlet during its pioneer days, but it’s acknowledging the vast contributions women have made to villages and towns and cities, in Canada particularly, but everywhere.