My sister, Barbara (Coleman) Thompson and I both thought it great fun to write about our family. For years we typed them and mailed them back and forth. Then came the computer and e-mail, and now my home page displays some of them to all the world! Writing kept Barbara and I close, down through the years. We we could visit, face to face, we came loaded with our latest efforts, pushing the other to “read this!” Our jabbering and reading was not always so fascinating the the rest of the family and they would sometimes suggest, “Why don’t you two ‘authors’ go visit in the computer room?”
I am sure we both were trying to emulate our mother, Zorene (Todd) Thompson, who was a storehouse of family history and stories. In fact, one of the most amazing pieces of family writing came from our mom, when she was well into her 80’s. Mother was a good typist and an excellent speller and grammarian, and so when she announced to us that she was going to write her life’s story, we were not too surprised. Mother began her story, sort of, “I was born....” and soon got bogged down trying to write everything in her memory! Also, she would type and retype her pages, to get them perfect, so she didn’t move ahead very fast. Barbara and I said to her, “Mother, just write the ‘stories;’ don’t worry about doing it chronologically. You know, the family stories you say we never get just right when we try to tell them? Then, we will help you put them all together.” I also convinced her to send me her first draft to put on my Macintosh computer, so she could continue writing...not retyping. This seemed to work. She would edit the output of my Mac in pencil but keep working on new chapters in her story. This project continued for about three years, but Barbara and I left the writing and editing entirely up to Zorene.
One fall, Barbara called me before Thanksgiving and said, “Ray, Mother’s memory is fading, and if she doesn’t finish her story soon, I’m afraid she won’t be able to really enjoy it.” So, since I had most of her story on my computer we decided it was time for us to get involved. I printed out what I had and brought it with me at Thanksgiving for Barbara to read. I also picked up some new drafts from mother, but we didn’t tell her of our plans...
When we sat down to really look at what mother had written, we were amazed! Not only was it well written, but the “stories” fit into a particular time slot of her family life—in fact a part of the family history that we didn’t know very much about... You see, mother’s parents, Madison and Julia Todd, started their married life in the beautiful piney woods of East Texas. However, when mother and her brother (Judson) were still under 8 years of age, Madison developed severe tuberculosis, for which there were no effective treatments in the early 1900’s. Faced with an early death, one of his doctors suggested he move to a hot dry climate. Madison (my grandfather) had a brother who had been west to New Mexico Territory, and he took Madison with him on a survey of that hot dry place, not yet a state. The railroad was building west from Texas, and land for homesteads was available, so granddad decided to move his family west. Well this is what mother had written about, leaving beautiful, green, east Texas and traveling with all their belongings to a barren homestead in New Mexico Territory...
Barbara was quick to suggest a title for what we were now calling a book. Mother’s favorite TV program at the time was “Little House On the Prairie,” and “Our Little House on the Prairie” became the title of mother’s book. Barbara and I both worked to find illustrations, and I published and bound the book, with just enough copies for our family, including her brother Judson Todd’s family. We presented the bound volume to mother for Christmas that year, and it has become a family treasure.
As Barbara had predicted, mother’s failing memory soon left her unable to stay in her apartment and Barbara and John moved her into a nursing home in Carlsbad, NM, where they lived. Soon, when Avalyn and I would go for a visit, mother knew who we were, but in the afternoon didn’t remember that we had also visited her that same morning. As many of you know, this makes it really hard to have much of a visit. However, we kept mothers book in a drawer right beside her bed and one of us would suggest, “Mother, let’s read a story from your book, OK?” As Barbara, or I or Avalyn would begin to read, Mother’s face would light up and she could not only finish the story, but add some additional details! It was a wonderful blessing for all of us, and we’ve told our story about “mother’s book,” many times, urging others to find someway to get their parents to record some of their family history.
This experience only urged Barbara and I on with our own writing projects, especially Barbara. You see, in the last 25 years of her life, Barbara was afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease. Through these difficult years, she found pleasure and relief from her disease by writing...about everything! She even wrote a book about living with Parkinson’s, which I published; it was sold by one of the Parkinson’s support groups and gained a library of Congress registration. Barbara loved a good story, and if the story wasn’t exciting or interesting enough, she could make it so! I tagged her with this quote from Bet Midler: “I never know how much of what I say is true!” As I’ve said, writing has always been a family tradition, and i relish the memories of our efforts as well as the words we wrote