Writing a Memoir – Research Part 2

In my last post I showed one way libraries can help with your research and touched on the Internet. In this techno-crazy society I don’t have to go into a lot of detail about how great the Internet can be with finding information – from the history of your birthplace to blogs by your family members. And then there is Facebook. So, I won’t go there. I just want to mention that some of my research on Canadian railways came from the Internet (much came from books as well) including ex-railway employees’ forums. If you’ve read an earlier posting, you know that my late father was a timekeeper for CN Railway, including during the 1950s and early 1960s. Until 1960, when diesel locomotives took over completely in Canada,  trains  were pulled by steam engines. And that was my most interesting Internet find – steam engines, complete with sound effects.  (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-_tFYZq2r0). So you never know what you will find on the Internet. And (here’s my journalism background kicking in), just be mindful about what is fact and what is fiction.

I also mentioned that returning to your childhood home (or homes) can also trigger memories for your memoir. And for those of you who believe that you can’t go home, it’s not true – even if the home itself is torn down and replaced with a parking lot or high-rise.  You can at least revisit the site. I returned to my growing-up home. However, it was not without some hesitation. I had to do it in spurts – walk around the block at different times including once with my son when he was 8 (he saw the cat on the front veranda and  ran on the property and I had to tell him the house wasn’t mine anymore), a drive with a friend who stopped the car right in front of the house and I was scared the current owners would think we were casing the joint. Oh and the biggie. I moved back to Toronto to a house very similar to the one I grew up in. Location: about five miles east.

As I write in my memoir, You Can Go Home

Like the changes in a house, my gravitation back to my family roots and the house at 139 seemed to evolve in fits and spurts. I needed to return so I could finish reconnecting with my dead parents. I didn’t expect séances or even to see their ghosts. I don’t see ghosts. But I needed to get inside that house in order to feel their spirits so I could connect with our life together and move forward in mine. It just seemed that I was taking my sweet time to do so.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home, Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

But I have to “blame” my cousin Gene from Michigan for landing me at my former home.

It is time to peel away the remaining layers of 139 and reunite with Mom and Dad’s spirits in their old home. I’m not sure how to do this – both in courage and method, so I hide in the daily busyness of my life. But I send out a quiet “I need to do this” intent. And the Universe plops down my answer.

It’s a hot August Sunday in 2005 and cousins Gene and Kathy are visiting from Michigan. We’re off from my current house to meet Martin for dinner in The Annex. As we cruise along O’Connor, I mention that we’re passing the street where I grew up and could we drive along it. Gene makes a right onto “my street.” When I point out the house, he stops the car in front of the driveway, sends down the car windows, and forces me to talk to a man removing a bag from his car in the driveway…

So here I am in August 2005 at the end of 139’s driveway. I clear my throat and the man in the driveway straightens up and turns towards me. He appears to be in his early 50s, tall with short grey hair and glasses.

“Excuse me,” I say. “I used to live here; my parents were the first owners. I’m Sharon Crawford; it was ‘Langevin’ and these are my cousins from Michigan, Gene and Kathy.”

The man nods. “Owen XXXX,” he says.

“I was wondering if we could see the outside of the house, not inside, because we’ve just sort of landed on you.”


The three of us get out and follow Owen  up the driveway. I’m lifted halfway into the past and remain halfway in the present. As we near the back, the first thing I notice is the garage – it is not the old rickety one of my time and I nod internally that I did see the actual switch in garages.

Next, Owen is introducing us to his wife, Mary, pulling weeds in their garden. I stare towards the back fence. My mind’s eye sees mother’s garden – the rosebushes, snowball tree, divider hedge, and the actual vegetable and fruit garden behind it; my real eyes pick up their absence and try to implant in my brain, the current lawn, perennials and the walkway from the basement. To my surprise, I don’t find it unpleasant. But when I take another look at that garage, the garage where Dad stomped out a garbage can fire, something about it doesn’t seem just right.

“Did you put up the new garage?” I ask.

“No,” says Mary. “The previous owners did and I don’t know why they built it right up against the back fence.”

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home, copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

As you can probably gather, my homecoming was serendipitous from the getgo, including a weird incident with an umbrella and finally getting inside the house  a couple of months later. The most interesting part may be that for someone who doesn’t see or hear ghosts (me), on the 40th anniversary of my dad’s death, I heard his spirit whoosh into my current house. That helps me realize that it doesn’t matter where I am – my parents’ spirits are with me.

Next time round I will give some tips on how to focus your memoir and more ways to trigger memoiries.





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