Getting Some ZZZZZs

Did you catch some ZZZs? What do I mean? I’m asking if you reposed. Took a nap. Slept.

My mother was a champion sleeper. She liked to read in bed and in no time at all would be sound asleep. Even during the day, she would stretch out on the couch for a little reading. That usually ended up as a nap.

“When the kids were little,” she said, “sometimes the only way I could get them to take a nap was to lie down with them.” I imagine she probably needed the rest too after having disrupted sleep with each new baby.

During those 105 degree summer days in Kansas, the folks found an afternoon nap carried them past the hottest time of the day. Then they refreshed themselves with a bowl of ice cream from the freezer. We nagged them to turn on their air conditioner, but they were adamant about not messing up the special discount on their electric bill for being a low-usage household.

She liked to sleep late during their retirement years. I learned not to call before ten in the morning. Once Dad died, this sometimes stretched even later in the day. It worried me, thinking that she had no compelling reason to get out of bed and start the day.

Sleeping allows the brain some downtime and lets it sort out and process all the information packed in there. Just writing about this is making me sleepy. How about you? Naptime…

Y is for Young Married Years

My parents married in June of 1945, the month after Germany surrendered. World War II continued for a few more months into September.

That first year, they rented a farm just around the corner from the Martins, Dad’s folks. This was southeast of Madison, Kansas. Dad’s sister Dorothy, her husband and their two children moved in with them until the Stafford’s house in town was ready.

Dad’s dream was to raise registered Aryshire dairy cattle. They borrowed money from the bank and from Mom’s father to buy their first stock.

On January 15, 1946, when the farm rent came due, the young couple moved to the Martin home place. Their first child, a son, was born on Valentine’s Day. Mom remembers being in the hospital for 10 days “which was the custom at that time.”

The winter and spring were very wet. Some of the cattle developed mastitis and the young couple took a big loss as they had to be sold for butchering.

The farm sale flyer is dated 1947, but from Gail's notes, I believe it was 1948.

The farm sale flyer is dated 1947.

It was a struggle to get through with just the garden and the chickens while getting ready for the farm sale in October. Years later, Mom wrote a story about that time called, “The Dream That Went Bust.”

In November 1947, they added a daughter to the family. With the money from the sale, they paid off the bank loan.

Gail and Clyde Martin with their first two children, Owen and Susan. (Scrapbook design from Smilebox)

Gail and Clyde Martin with their first two children, Owen and Susan. (Scrapbook design from Smilebox)

Next month, I’ll post Mom’s essay on that time, as I see it isn’t in either of her books or online anywhere.

X Marks the Spot

When pirates buried their treasure, they drew a map to find it again. On the map, they put a big X showing where to find the treasure.

A treasure that I’ve found in my mother’s papers is a hand-drawn map she made showing the Phillips oil company camp where the family lived in the 1930s. Actually she left a number of these maps showing where the McGhees and the Martins lived in Greenwood and Lyon County, Kansas.

I wish I’d had this to include in her memoir, My Flint Hills Childhood.

Here’s an example:

Map of Teterville, Kansas

Clarence and Ruth McGhee’s homes while working for Phillips Oil.


I think this is a great idea for all of us to record our neighborhood where we grew up or the interior of the house. A great memory exercise.

Floor plan of a house from Gail Martin's childhood.

Floor plan of a house from Gail Martin’s childhood.

W is for Writing Family Memories

Save Family Memories to Our Echo

You look at vintage family photos and wonder “what was their life like?” Some day, your great-grandchildren will be the ones asking this question about pictures of you. Start now writing about your childhood memories to pass along to your children and grandchildren. Don’t leave them wondering.

Gail McGhee and her older sister Melba on a horse in the 1930s.

Gail McGhee and her older sister Melba on a horse in the 1930s.

My mother encouraged friends and family to write for the Our Echo website. She was such a consistent contributor and a cheerleader for the others writing there, that the site creator hired her for the webmaster. Not many sites have 80 year old webmasters.

Posting the memory pieces that you write online at Our Echo lets your family enjoy your memories right away. It also preserves them in case your computer should ever crash. Read on to learn more about the Our Echo website and how you can participate there.

How to Get Started on the Website

Go to Our Echo. Click on “Create an Account.” It will ask you for an e-mail address and to choose a password and a password reminder. It then asks your name, city, state, and country. You can add a photo and a brief biography and a link to your website if you have one.

You then have the option to view posts or to add a post. Browse around the home page and also view what other people have posted. This will give you some ideas for your own postings.

Sharing the story you’ve written only takes a minute.

1. Select “Add a Post” from the OurEcho homepage.

2. When prompted, sign in using your email address and the password you selected.

3. Select the type of story you are writing and include a primary person, year, and individual. These three items identify the main components of the story are used by OurEcho to organize stories. The more specific you can be, the easier your story can be located within OurEcho, as well as by search engines like Google and Yahoo.

4. In the space provided include your story and then select “Continue.”

5. If you wish, on the pages that follow, upload photos and audio to accompany your story – select “Continue.”

6. Review your story and select “Publish.” You must select “Publish” for your story to be published on OurEcho.

This is a great site to record your family memories and history to share with others.

Add Photos to Your Our Echo Postings

You can add photos to your posting and also record your voice reading your story. These enhance the experience of reading your memories.

Examples of Family Memory Writing on Our Echo – written by Virginia Allain

  1. On My Grandparents’ Farm – memories from a 1950s childhood in Kansas
  2. All Our Playhouses – remembering making mud pies
  3. Off to Town – memories of family shopping trips to town

Here’s Mom’s Our Echo profile and links to her stories. She wrote dozens of posts from family history to poems to childhood memories that she shared on the site. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren don’t have to wonder “what was her life like?”

V is for Writing Memories More Vividly

My mother, Gail Lee Martin, published this with eHow some years ago. She also used these tips with the memoir writing group that she taught at the Shepherd Center in Wichita, Kansas.

Vintage inkwell collected by Cynthia Ross, Gail's daughter.

Vintage inkwell collected by Cynthia Ross, Gail’s daughter.

Write Memories More Vividly

Writing family memories saves them for your children and grandchildren to enjoy. Each person’s memories remain unique and there’s no single correct way to write them. Here are tips for enhancing your memory writing.

Pay attention to detail: How your dad looked milking the cow for instance, the sounds and smells of the barn, and Mother straining the milk and skimming the cream.

What did they wear, how did they move about, what time of day was it? Get the details down on paper.

Try to use all five senses in the writing. See the scene. What smells do you associate with it? What were the sounds? Think of touch and how things felt? What tastes go with the scene.
Remember to include See/Hear/Taste/Touch/Smell in memory writing.

Spark your memories with visuals, letters, photographs, newspaper articles, pictures from magazines etc. Look closely at these for tiny things you’d forgotten over the years. Get out a magnifying glass if you need to see background details in the pictures.

Make use of vintage photos to refresh your memory when writing.

Make use of vintage photos to refresh your memory when writing.

Talk to family members or anyone of that generation to stimulate memories. Their memories might be quite different from yours, but will still inspire your mind to dredge deeper.

Consider who will read or listen to your stories. Are there things in the story that is outside their experience? If the writing is for your grandchildren, maybe they’ve never seen a butter churn. This means describing it in more detail. What was it made of, how big was it, and how did it work? Don’t make it a lesson; just work the details into the story.

Here's the kind of churn we had when I was growing up (Virginia Allain)

Here’s the kind of churn we had when I was growing up (Virginia Allain)

Make the language active, not passive. Instead of saying, “I wanted to be with her,” say “I craved her presence.” See how much more power the second wording gives to the same idea. Usually if the sentence has some form of “be” in it, then it is passive.

On the other hand, don’t look for $40 words when plain speaking does the job. If he filled the milk bucket to the brim, don’t fancy it up to “he inundated the milk container to capacity.”

Tips & Warnings
Don’t get too wrapped up in the wording. The most important thing remains getting the memory onto paper. The exact words can be adjusted later.

To see how she applied these tips to her own memoir writing, you can read her memories of going to the theater in the 1930s, Saturday at the Movies.
Here are some of the comments on her article:

jackieblue said on 5/26/2009: This is great. Thanks for giving good tips to help people preserve the past in words. Five stars

kittycooks said on 5/26/2009: Lovely. Thanks for sharing your writing tips!

ScarlettOHairy said on 5/25/2009: Great tips for “remembering” better. Thanks for this thoughtful article.

miasavc said on 1/17/2009: I love this article. It makes me see myself when I write my journal. Sometimes, it scares me because I am so descriptive about everything I put down in paper that I get so vulnerable. Great one, by the way!

U is for Uncluttering

The topic in the Unclutterer newsletter this week made me stop and ponder. It was about parting with sentimental clutter. Oh Oh, a delicate subject, for sure.

The first advice was to keep just the items you’ll display or use. I think of the 25 boxes of genealogy files, family photos and Mom’s writing that I brought home two years ago. Yes, those have a definite purpose as I’m hunting through them for information for the three books that Mom and I were working on together. Now it is a solo project, but the files are crucial to completing those.

The article then recommends that items not being actively used or displayed, at least be limited to what will fit inside a designated space. It recommends a single chest or a keepsake box. I’m stretching it a little to what will fit in my genealogy room shelves and cupboards.

Here's the guest room in our house with the shelving and work space. Hidden behind another cabinet is the murphy bed for guests.

Here’s the guest room in our house with the shelving and work space. Hidden behind another cabinet is the murphy bed for guests.

Keeping boxes of odds and ends in the garage or basement gathering dust is not a fitting way to honor your loved one. I can surely agree with that. They suggest selecting a few really meaningful pieces to feature in some way like in a shadow box.

Here’s a final thought from the Unclutterer article.

Remember that items don’t have magical properties, memories do.

T is for Things

“Things” is too generic a title to grab readers, but I didn’t want to put a long rambling title. Here’s what I’m really writing about today: “Things I Wish I Hadn’t Inherited from My Mother.”

Let’s start with some physical things that I could do without. This Scots-Irish skin hasn’t worked well for me. I grew up in Kansas where the sun scorches the earth all summer and we played outside all day without sunscreen. For the last 25 years, I’ve lived in hot, desert or tropical climates like Australia, South Texas and Florida. I have the wrong skin type for this. Instead of tanning, I freckle. I’ll be a very lucky person if I don’t get skin cancer some day.

ginger avatar

Virginia Allain


Then there are the hammer toes. I guess grandma had these, then Mom had an extreme case of twisted toes and I’ve inherited them too. No, we didn’t wear pointed, narrow high heels. Grandma and Mom were farm women and wore practical shoes. With the feet I have, when clogs came along, I quickly adopted them. Mostly I prefer going barefoot.

I have Mom and Grandma to thank for the excess skin on my upper arms. Maybe some weight lifting would help tone those and give me a buff look. Unfortunately, I also inherited Mom and Grandma’s love of writing and reading. I’d rather be typing away at my computer than sweating at the gym.

My hoarding tendencies I trace directly back to Mom. It sounds better if you call them collections, but there’s no question that my sisters and I like to collect stuff. My hoardings include miniature baskets, Hall China pitchers, Tindeco tins from the early 1900s, antique quilts, vintage Ginger tins, antique valentines and of course, lots of books. The current emphasis on minimalism gives me a guilt complex for accumulating so much. I’ve had a lot of enjoyment from creating these collections though and displaying them gives me pleasure.

My collection of vintage ginger spice tins. My nickname is Ginger and that inspired this.

My collection of vintage ginger spice tins. My nickname is Ginger and that inspired this.