My first as-told-to memoir was of my mother, Doris Prowler Lebow. I’d done a lot of dishes with her and spent a lot of time shopping with her or as a passenger in her car, but I knew little about her experiences and reflections. So, with a background in journalism, I interviewed her at length and self-published her story, in her words.
While I was interviewing her, she would naturally throw in verbal asides. I had to decide whether to leave these in the narrative or not. I left them in. Here’s an example:
“Except for not having energy, I like the way I’m living now. It’s very nice. There are a lot of diversions in Manhattan, and I’d always wanted to live in the city. I don’t have enough friends in Manhattan though, because at this stage of my life you don’t make friends easily. But also, I’m not too interested in having people around because I’d rather just relax and read. (Stanley gets me annoyed. He calls and expects me to listen to him and complains that I always say I’m busy.)”
This personal history is accented by photographs, recipes, and WWII letters between my mother and my father, who was in the Service in the mid-1940s. We also included family medical histories, the burial sites of members of the family, and a list of my mother’s important “Miscellanies” in the kitchen:
If too salty, add raw potato.
If too sweet, add cider vinegar.
Use club soda to clean appliances.
For easy cleaning of a grater, rub it with salad oil before grating.
Store cottage cheese upside down so that it keeps fresher.
Soaking lemons in hot water for 15 minutes before squeezing gives twice the juice.
Toothpaste will remove small scratches from glass.
Use the cheapest dishwasher detergent with a few tablespoons of vinegar in the dishwasher.
I’m not sure Mom ever read the book. No one in my family took an interest in it until she died, fifteen years after it was published. Now it’s a bestseller (within our family)! What’s more, it jumpstarted my business and led to the creation of hundreds of memoirs, for families thirsty for their roots, or a legacy, or memories of a mother’s daily routines that only she can describe…in her own words.