On my first solo train ride at age eleven, I itched for more adventure than visiting a relative in Virginia would most likely provide. Little did I know that adventure approached me in the person of a fascinating Russian woman who boarded at South Station. After heaving a bulging suitcase into the overhead rack, she squeezed into the seat next to me. She wore a faded, flower-print scarf over wiry grey curls that sprang from the edges. As the train wheezed and hissed, she made a nest within her seat, gathering her woolen coats and scarves around her as if preparing for a long winter’s nap. Satisfied, she smiled at me and offered a sandwich from a black tin lunchbox. Trusting and hungry, I accepted and we exchanged hellos and names. The train lurched forward. I wouldn’t have ever guessed that in the time it took us to travel from Boston to Washington D.C., my fate was sealed. I was to become a collector of stories—a writer!
I listened, wide-eyed, thrilling to the broken-English telling of Mrs. Danilov’s vivid and sometimes dark life adventures—all spoken in a guttural voice full of music and passion, spiking in volume as she became more intense and excited about having survived the Siberian work camps, poverty and bitter cold. She’d been a lace-maker in a small Russian village as a girl, where her brothers shoveled coal into industrial furnaces 14 hours a day. As a young woman, she fled to some city, the name of which escapes me now, to sing in nightclubs and churches until she met her man, married and had her first child. When she told the story of their escape to Murmansk, then to Finland and finally to America she leaned towards me and half-whispered, half-spat these confidences into my ear. “Bolshevist Monsters!” she sputtered.
All these years later, I am still a wide-eyed listener and persistent people-watcher. What a parade—sometimes even a circus! Is this not true for you, too? As you go about your daily life don’t you hear stories, see characters, eavesdrop, tune into the humor, struggle, joy, despair and the many other emotions of human existence? I bet you’ve collected thousands of moments that spark your past like fireflies in a summer night sky. Do you try to capture these, or do you just look and admire their flickering lights?
Everyone has stories that beg and deserve to be told to family, friends and readers. If you look back, you’ll notice that as you were growing up, stories were developing every day of your life. You might recall the shocked look on your mother’s face as you proudly showed her the really long worm you found in the back yard. Do you remember that first dance in the stuffy gymnasium? When the tears welled up because that boy who asked you to dance swung you under his arm so fiercely that you ripped your favorite dress from armpit to waist? Yes, we all have stories—moments that hurt, dazzle, evoke laughter or tears or tell of a soul’s journey—stories that should not be lost. Why don’t you put some of yours in print to share them, or, how about an oral history of your family, recorded from interviews on tape, at least, in print at best?
You might ask, but where do I begin? There are prompts and questions that can trigger those memories. Contact me, I can help.