by Bonny C. Millard
I don’t remember exactly when my interest developed, but my love of other people’s stories must have started early in my life during trips across the United States with my grandparents every summer, moving around in their travel trailer to stay in out-of-the-way places like gypsies on the run.
My grandfather spent months meticulously planning each summertime trip so that our travels made a loop visiting friends, family members and geographic features that have been etched in my mind.
From strangers to family, I learned how others lived.
Visits to see Mama Cooper, my diminutive maternal great-grandmother, whose side-by-side vegetable and flower gardens towered over her as she picked the bounty she had grown with love, taught me about life in small town Arkansas.
She died in her late nineties when I was still quite young.
What I wouldn’t give to sit with her on that great wraparound porch that hugged her two-story clapboard farmhouse like a family member and ask about her life.
I stood on the banks of the Rio Grande and watched as Mexican villagers on the other side tended to their lives. Later, I would mingle among villagers in a marketplace and be awed by the colorful sombreros that they created while we watched.
The bright green one I chose still takes me back in time.
During this time, I also dipped into the fictional worlds of Nancy Drew and other characters. As I grew older, my reading matured.
Writer Pearl S. Buck, the daughter of missionaries in China, ushered me into the world of Chinese peasants and royalty. These imaginary trips transformed my life.
This background led me to step firmly with one foot into real life stories and the other into the fictional playgrounds of characters who live in my head.
Through my years as a journalist, people’s stories filled me with the spectrum of humanity:
- The young man who risked his life, fleeing East Germany six months before the Berlin Wall fell
- Another young man who followed his circus performer parents into the decades old family dynasty of stilt walking
- The mother who lost her son in a late night car accident but gave life to many others through the gift of her son’s organs
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of teaching four Senior Memoir Writing Workshops for the Knoxville Writers’ Guild with a grant from East Tennessee Foundation’s Literacy Endowment Fund.
I love sharing my knowledge of writing, but more importantly, I had the opportunity to engage with people who want to tell their own stories.
During the presentations, I heard a mixture of experiences that were all worthy of a lasting legacy that writing offers.
Late in the summer, we put out a call to participants about writing a short piece for the Knoxville Writers’ Guild blog. When I read the entries, I was reminded again of the vastly different approaches that writers take and that we have an endless supply of stories.
Over the next several days, those pieces will be shared here as prelude to the annual Knoxville Writers’ Guild Holiday Potluck and Open Mic Thursday night when members will read from their own stories and poetry. Come out and listen to an eclectic collection of tales, socialize with fellow writers and even have a holiday snack or two. If you’re a member and want to read, come early and sign up.
In the meantime, write your own stories down before they escape into the world unnoticed and forgotten.
Millard is a writing coach and project development editor. Her work as an award-winning journalist and fiction writer has led her to help other writers explore the depths of their stories. She has an MFA in Creative Writing, fiction, from Queens University of Charlotte, NC. www.bonnymillard.com.