Did you grow up in a small town? Do you have memories that when brought fully to life can paint a colorful picture of that certain place and time?
George Vaughan sure did. He grew up in the small mill town of Fries, Virginia, on the banks of the New River. George attended one of my Autobiographical Writing classes at the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and he was just bursting with stories from his small-town life experiences as a child in the 1930s and ’40s. George had been a highly accomplished professional; he served as president of two Virginia community colleges and published scores of academic-oriented books and articles. But writing personal stories about his life was an entirely different kind of animal, he observed. He was enjoying the process and was inspired to teach others what it was like to live the way he did back then. He had visions of writing a book about it all. Could he really stick with the process well enough to build an entire memoir around his childhood in Fries?
George found his answer, and he has recently released his memoir: Once-Told Tales: A Boy’s Life on the Crooked Road, Fries, Virginia, A Mill Town.
He gave voice to it all: camping out in the backyard in his Army surplus tent; surviving an attack of leeches by burning them off with matches; becoming a big-time “gambler” by flicking coins; killing a bird with a BB gun and deciding he would never kill again; making it through school with Cs and Ds; spending five days a week after school and all day Saturday playing basketball and ping-pong at the Y; eating dinners of fried potatoes, green onions from the garden, mustard greens and cornbread; burning his bottom while drying too close to the stove after his Saturday night bath; getting a jar of pickled peaches as a Christmas present while pondering the question: if Santa could come every Christmas, why couldn’t Jesus? He made sure to weave in a good bit of the town’s history, informing readers at the outset that Fries was pronounced “freeze” not like what you ate with your hamburger. He didn’t surgar-coat his depiction of the town and its people, including himself. He just let the stories do his talking, and in so doing left readers with a real and deep appreciation of his small-town life while beckoning us to dive into our own memories of our childhoods in towns small or large.
If you are embarking on writing your life story, and you happened to have grown up in a small town, maybe you’ve got your own once-told tales to bring to life. Perhaps, instead of seeking to write a full-fledged autobiography that covers your entire life, you too may want to consider writing a slice-of-life memoir. Would you like to tell us all about what it was like to grow up in your small town?
– Kevin Quirk, author of “Your Life Is a Book And It’s Time To Write It,” teaches classes on Writing Your Life Story and serves as a ghostwriter for memoirs and autobiographies.