September 2, 2009

My Father’s Memoir

In the spring of 2007, my father and I took the last of our big trips together, to battlefields of the Civil War. We flew to Jackson, Mississippi, then worked our way back to New England by rented car, through Vicksburg, Shiloh, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Virginia, and Gettysburg.

Somewhere on this trip, Dad turned to me and said, "You know, I think I might like to do a memoir like you do with your clients." Dad was 81, going on 82, the median age of my client memoirists. Then he added the kicker, "Only I don't want to pay what your clients pay." Cheap old son of a gun!

"That's great, Dad," I said. "We'll think about it."

And I did think about it: How much I loved my father. How he had become my best male friend in recent years. How much I would like to preserve his story for his grandchildren and those to come after. And how busy I was. Imagine not having the time for your own father's memoir! But he wasn't in the mood for an expensive project, and I was busy as I could be earning my daily bread.

That June, my older daughter, Martha, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago, with all of the appropriate research and writing skills. I thought of how I had started Memoirs Unlimited "with" my grandfather, Dan Bull. (Actually, he had died eighteen years before, but because he had the foresight to write his memoir, and because I kept my copy, that became the seed of my business.) And I thought how cool it would be if my daughter could be introduced to my business through her grandfather.

I asked Martha if she would like to work with Dad for a living wage. She said yes. I asked Dad if he would like to work with Martha—and pay her a living wage. He too said yes. And they sat down for their first interview late in 2007.

For some time Dad had wondered openly if he would outlive his father. His father had died at 83, and Dad was coming up to his 83rd birthday as he and Martha were completing the first draft of his memoir. The week Dad turned 83 he was diagnosed with incurable melanoma and given 3-4 months to live. The photo shows Dad and Mom during his final summer, with their feline companion, Dodger.

I will always count it as one of the miracles of my life that the week before Dad entered hospice care, the week he and Mom celebrated their 58th anniversary, his memoir, printed and bound in "Yale blue," was delivered to him. I know that he and Martha were deeply gratified by the success of their collaboration.

Like most of our projects, Dad's memoir, "City Boy," had a limited run, in his case 150 copies. But when his life ended on September 23, 2008, and the funeral had passed us by in a blur, his book was there—to be sent to family and friends, and to be savored by all of us who had loved my father.

His story has been preserved for all generations. That is why we write and publish memoirs.

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