Many “merci beaucoup” to Maureen Perry, She taught me how to say “Happy Thanksgiving” en francais! Perry is the librarian at the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC) and a colleague on the Board of the Franco-American Collection. Over the years, I’ve heard a few variations about how to say “Happy Thanksgiving” in French, but I accept Perry as an authoritative source.
Joyeuse Action de Grâce!
On Thanksgiving, families gather and create a perfect opportunity when stories are routinely shared. Maybe, some stories are funny or embarrassing, while others are sad, but family histories are celebrated during the enjoyable feasting.
This occasion is also a perfect setting where the family’s scribe can begin to organize memories and compose memoirs!
An interesting article about this subject was published on November 10, in The Wall Street Journal. “Why you should write a memoir even if nobody will read it” by Lisa Ward, explained how the process can help people to make sense of their lives.
For example, I’m often asked, why is it important for Franco-Americans to remember their history? In fact, Franco-Americans share many beautiful traditions, but when a group are in the same room, they often speak about their lives as though they have very little in common. Yet, genealogists and historians can document how all Franco-Americans share the same heritage and language. Even if Franco-Americans don’t speak fluent French, they all remember how their grandparents spoke the language at home, because this common heritage is shared with their ancestors, those who immigrated from French Canada and, even earlier, from France.
These memories can be lost with each passing generation unless family members write them down. A mini tape recorder or a family podcast can capture rare historical memories and preserve them for all future generations to appreciate. Or, write them down.
A memoir doesn’t necessarily require an epic review of one’s entire life. In fact, short memoirs might be preferable, by writing about a particularly significant moment, or time period, in a person’s life. For example, my mother told stories about living through the prohibition during the 1930’s, when she was growing up in Pennsylvania. Her stories about how people in the community made moonshine, to get around the law, were priceless.
Veterans’ histories are important. A National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant was awarded to The Franco-American Collection at USM LAC where the oral histories of veterans were recorded for the purpose of digitizing their special stories. Each veteran’s personal story is unique.
Several Franco-American memoirs come to mind. “My Families, My Life“, by Ruth Grondin, is descriptive about her family and their community relationships. In her introduction, she summarizes the importance of memoir writing. “So long as one is remembered, one lives,” is the first sentence in Grondin’s wonderfully told family stories. Some describe particularly difficult situations, but all of them reflect on the deep bond shared by Franco-Americans with their relatives, the French language and special devotions to religious faith.
“Growing Up Franco-American (with no black patent leather shoes)“, by Franco-American author Lorraine Masure of Sanford, is a historic and entertaining memoir. Masure joyously describes how her family’s values, their support for education and celebrating important traditions helped to frame her success as a professional woman who worked in academia.
Sometimes, a professional guide can help jump start memoir writing. Denis Ledoux, of Lisbon, Maine, is the author of “Turning Memories into Memoirs“. In fact, Ledoux is often asked to lead workshops about writing memoirs. On November 14, Ledoux was a guest speaker at the USM LAC Franco-American Collection. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
A written gift of gratitude is a tribute to our past and endures for future generations to enjoy. Perhaps, one of the best ways to say “Joyeuse Action de Grâce!” is to challenge ourselves, by writing a work of love. Write a memoir!