Point of view is important. Imagine, for instance, if your life story were told from your grandmother’s point of view. In Grandma’s version, you would be the main protagonist: hardworking, attractive, with a genuine appreciation for home baking, and twice as smart as her neighbour Joan’s grandkid. But imagine instead if your Uncle Cecil wrote your memoir. He never liked you much, not since he paid you to clean his car, and you thought water blasting would get the job done faster. If Cecil were writing your life story, he’d be only too pleased to portray you as a useless waste of space. For the most flattering perspective, it’s best to write your memoirs yourself.
Take my dad, for example. Dad’s a great storyteller. His bedtime stories were the best, especially those comic adventures of Horace and Aristotle, two frogs, one smart and one not so smart, from our creek on Dip Road. When we outgrew talking frogs, Dad enthralled us with real-life stories, all starring himself in the pivotal role. My mother would roll her eyes while Dad told of pranks played on schoolmasters, of the secret flat in a high street bank, and the rooftop chase that foiled a bank robbery. There’s one about a frosty dip, an impromptu haka, a perilous sea rescue, a bike repaired with a barbeque plate, a feet-first swimming race, and how to speed-eat with chopsticks. Bigger than life, my dad has always been the hero of his own story. Telling his life in his words, from his point of view.
Then, a few years ago, Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s not so surprising. Worldwide, someone is diagnosed every 72 seconds. Indiscriminate and incurable, the disease affects even those with compelling life stories, like activist Rosa Parkes, artist Norman Rockwell, or James Doohan, engineer of the Starship Enterprise. Nor are our storytellers exempt. Take author EB White (Charlotte’s Web), Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Tales), childhood favourite, Enid Blyton, and more recently, fantasy icon Terry Pratchet, all afflicted by the memory-robbing disease.
In Dad’s case, we weren’t too late. With some prompting from family members, many of Dad’s stories have been recorded, a written reminder for Dad, who no longer remembers, and for us. It wasn’t a huge print run, only half a dozen copies, but in all of them, Dad is the plucky hero.
So, please don’t leave it too late. Don’t give Uncle Cecil the satisfaction of writing your memoirs. This World Alzheimer’s Day, Tuesday 21 September, why not become a hero? Why not write the first episode in your own life story, and a cheque in support of Alzheimers Tauranga?
Published in B.O.P. Times, 19 September 2010