It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.”Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
My memoir, HEART OF THIS FAMILY – Lessons in Down Syndrome and Love, will be available for purchase in August of this year. And while I knew “it takes a village to raise a child,” I had no idea the same would be true when writing a book! But indeed it does.
My journey began in October 2012 when I enrolled in a three-part course “Memory to Memoir” taught by award-winning novelist Laura Kalpakian. Over the next nine months, under Laura’s wise and demanding tutoring, my classmates and I developed skills in various aspects of the writing process including: narrative voice and structure, scenic depiction, character development, dialogue, detail, and dramatic arc. While writing each “shitty first draft,” Laura encouraged us let words flow without excessive judgement. Revision, aided by thoughtful critique, would refine our initial efforts.
In an early piece about my first day as an elementary school educator in the early sixties, I described standing at the door to the classroom looking in before the students arrived, but I never moved from that position. My notes from that class include a reminder to move characters through a scene – don’t let the scene become static.
The following excerpt from HEART OF THIS FAMILY illustrates this technique. Steve and I are standing at the entrance to the nearly empty sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where in the memorial service for his father will begin in a half-hour.
“I still sad Mom. I miss my dad.”
“I know Steve.” I put my arm around his shoulder, pulling him close. “I’m sad too.”
Three sections of aluminum-framed chairs with black upholstered backs and seats formed a semi-circle in front of a low platform containing a wooden lectern. A silver chalice and a simple arrangement of white roses occupied the narrow cloth-draped table located to one side of the lectern. We made our way down the aisle, and Steve stopped to introduce himself to the piano player, arranging sheet music above the keyboard.
“Hi, I Steve Cohen. My Dad pass away.” Steve reached out his hand in greeting.
“Pleased to meet you Steve. My name is John. I’m sorry about your Dad. I hope you’ll like the music I’m going to play for him today.” Steve smiled and reached out playfully toward the keyboard.
“Come on Steve. John needs to practice. Let’s look around some more.” The two of us made our way toward the lectern. I knew Steve was curious about the service and how it would unfold. “See this? This is where the minister will stand. And you and your brothers will stand here too when you take turns talking about Dad.”
Suddenly Steve stopped in his tracks and stood frozen looking from side to side. “Where the coffin?”
I’d been waiting for this. I knew he would ask this question. There was no way I wanted to attempt explaining cremation to Steve. I cleared my throat. “Well some people, when they die, want to be in a coffin and buried in the ground. And some people…uh, they just want to be free and have their spirit move through the air. That’s what your Dad wanted.”
“I have a dream after Dad pass away. He in heaven now. How he get there?”
“Ummm…” My eyes traveled down to the program I my hand. “Look Steve. See this drawing of a sailboat? Remember how much Dad liked to sail? This is a picture of the boat that took Dad and sailed him to heaven.”
Steve smiled. “Dad have fun sailing to heaven!”
My eyes glistened and I gave Steve another hug.
Thanks to Laura for the many lessons I’ve continued to learn from her. I am pleased to share with you her recommendation for HEART OF THIS FAMILY – Lessons in Down Syndrome and Love.
“The unforgettable story of a mother’s love, and educator’s devotion a family’s dedication and a boy—Steve—who brightened many lives. Linda Morrow’s memoir chronicles her pioneering struggles to help Steve find his place in the world both as a child and as an adult. Hope, humor, heart—and heartbreak—fill these pages. Morrow’s strength of purpose will inspire anyone who has ever been told to be satisfied with the status quo. This is remarkable book.Laura Kalpakian, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship recipient and award-winning author of The Great Pretenders
Curious about the cover? Here’s a little sneak peek.
Keep checking back to see more 😉