Personal Narrative, by Loretta Grant

When Loretta was working on her personal narrative, she started by making a various timelines of how her story could go. Eventually she settled on this one:

  • In the boat
  • Lindsey as a baby
  • Lindsey at 10
  • Lindsey at 17
  • Lindsey at 26, the age I was when I had her

Once she had her timeline, she just typed right into it, stretching each part out with lots of detail (dialogue, actions, thinking, and images). 

This is the same process that lots of students can benefit from when planning a story, then drafting.

  • In the boat  

My beautiful daughter sat in the bow of the boat talking to me, as her husband and children enjoyed a perfect day on the Mediterranean. Three boats lashed together filled with her friends and children.  She held the youngest of her three children easily, soothing him whenever he needed her. She talked about vacations in Croatia, holidays, and people I didn’t know.

The words started to blur and soften in my ears and in my heart an awareness started to slowly come into focus……

  • Lindsey as a baby

“Sweetheart,” I called to my husband, “just look at her! Is it just me, or is she the most beautiful baby you’ve ever seen?!”  My husband was use to this conversation and accommodated me by joining me staring at our 3 week old baby girl.  

“Oh! Did I tell you that total strangers were talking about the baby with all the beautiful blond hair when I went to get her from the nursery?”

“Yeah, you told me.” Larry replied with a smile, a twinkle in his eye, and pride.  

Looking back, I remember being in awe my daughter.  A daily living miracle.  I always considered giving birth to my two children the greatest contribution I would ever make in the world. The result being far greater than the sum of the parts.

  • Lindsey at 10

“Lindsey, I brought this book home from school today.  Some of my students recommended it and I thought you might like it.” I tried to sound casual, no pressure.

“No.” Accompanied by the familiar 10 year old’s groan and eye-roll. “I don’t think I’d like it.”

My 36 year old self sighed, probably rolled my eyes and said, “Fine. Never mind. Just thought I’d ask.”  And I retreated to my desk to do some work.

Moments later my daughter came to stand near me. “Mom, if you want some space that’s okay.  I just hate it when something comes between us.”  Words that I had said many times to her, now coming back to console me.  My eyes filled and I kissed her.

  • Lindsey at 17

We were headed to Maine for a funeral on my husband’s side of the family. Lindsey and I had 6 hours together to enjoy the peak foliage across New England.  Certainly there was laughter… and whatever else that is that mothers and daughters share in measured syllables and unspoken judgments.

“I don’t know, Mom….  Everything you say just bugs me!”

I laughed.  This wasn’t news to me.

“Linds, you are going away to college next year.  It is appropriate that I should bug you… We’ve been close and now you are going to be on your own. I think it is a way to prepare yourself.”  I don’t know if I said that for her sake or mine, or if I truly believed it.  But, maybe it was true.

  • Lindsey at 26, the age I was when I had her.

“Mom, I really appreciate you coming out to Chula Vista and the time you spent taking care of Kylie the summer I had Avalon.  That was really helpful.”  She meant it, and I could feel her looking for common ground.  Common ground seemed harder and harder to find.

“It was my pleasure, Linds.”

Being in my daughter’s home, especially without my husband, had a tiny edge of awkwardness.  A woman in another woman’s home… you don’t know where things belong, or what spices they use when they cook, or how they like the laundry done.  I recognized the feeling from when my own mother would visit so many years before, interpreting her actions as some mild judgement of my inadequacy.

We sat in the boat, and time folded in on itself like a dropped ribbon.  I could hardly hear her words, but my daughter was so beautiful I had a hard time not to stare.   The once sturdy cord that had bound us together since before her birth and gave her something to chafe against as a teen, was now stretched to a fine gossamer thread. I happened to catch the very moment it let go and the tendril was lifted in the breeze and flung out over the surface of the water.  

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Personal Narrative, by Meg Terrien

 

When Meg was working on her personal narrative, she started by making a various timelines of how her story could go. Eventually she settled on this one:

Driving There

Going In

Seeing Kittens

Choosing Bentley

Girl Comes In

Choose Royce

Go Home

Once she had her timeline, she just typed right into it, stretching each part out with lots of detail (dialogue, actions, thinking, and images). 

Later, she can take the headings left over from her timeline right out to create a seamless story.

This is the same process that lots of students can benefit from when planning a story, then drafting.

Driving There

We drove to the middle of no where and turned left.  We continued driving down an uneven, bumpy, dirt road, slowly, looking at each other and the surrounding dilapidated properties.  This could not be right.  I got an increasingly anxious feeling until it came into view; a green mobile home missing a driveway, but with tire tracks marking where a driveway should be.  A metal swingset sat crooked in the backyard, and two giant dogs barked from their post.  We pulled in and looked at each other, “Ready”? I asked Jordan.

 

Going In

 

Tentatively, we stepped over puddles of mud and avoided broken sticks and toys.  As we were about to knock, the storm door swung open.  A small, shirtless boy about 6 years old stood, holding the teeniest black kitten I have ever seen.  “You can’t have this one, he’s mine.”  I put on my best first-grade-teacher smile and replied, “Oh!  Of course we won’t choose yours!”  A woman, underdressed for the middle of November; barefoot, in white-washed, bellbottom jeans, arms coated in ink from tattoos, and a black spaghetti strapped tanktop rolled her eyes behind him.  “That’s NOT his,” she proclaimed.  They’re in the back room.  Head out back.”

 

 

Seeing Kittens

 

We continued through the narrow hallway, if you could call a three-foot step a hallway, and peered into the back room.  It was set, lower, than the rest of the house like it had been an afterthought or once a deck or three-season porch.  A recliner was shoved in the closest corner and my heart melted when I looked closer.  Nine kittens were rolled up like coiled snakes in a pile.  One on top of the other- their mother at the center- all sound asleep.  Oh my gosh, I thought.  This is just. too. cute.  I looked over at Jordan with fear and hesitation, all of my unasked questions obvious on my face and in my eyes.  “Can we pick them up?  How can we take them from their mom?  How do we know which one to choose? What if we make a bad choice?”

“It’s okay.”  Jordan said, breaking the silence, “pick one up.”  We each bent over the chair, allowing the mom to smell us and patting her, saying, “Good mom, aren’t you?  Ahhh, such a pretty girl.”  We scooped a kitten up in our hands and pulled each one close to our hearts.  

 

Choosing Bentley

 

“MMEW!” I shot a look over to Jordan.  “Jord! It misses it’s mom! Put it back, quick!”  The kitten Jordan was holding was wide awake and fighting to get down.  He bent over and put the kitten on the floor.  The kitten, having the freedom to move on its own, strutted immediately over to another kitten that had woken up in the commotion, and batted its head.  “That’s the one!” Jordan said, “I want a kitten that’s playful.  This one is mine.”  That was too easy, I thought.  I looked longingly at the other eight kittens.  How would I ever decide?   

 

Girl Comes In

 

A noise in the doorway caused us to turn.  A young girl approached and walked over to the chair.  “What was she doing?” I wondered.  I looked to Jordan to ask the same question with my eyes.  “WHAT IS SHE DOING!?!?” I screamed, my wide, blue eyes wrought with concern.  He just shrugged.  “Excuse me,” I asked, “are you here to choose a kitten?”  She nodded, “uh huh.”  Ugh. My heart dropped.  What if she chose the kitten that I wanted? The pressure was on.  I ping-pong-balled my eyes from kitten to kitten trying to best choose the one for me.  Should I take the small, fluffy white one?  Should I take the medium, quiet, grey one?  Should I take the runt of the litter?  Should I take one that seems to get along with the kitten Jordan had already chosen?  I just didn’t know.  Luckily, the girl made her choice very quickly and walked out of the room.  Phew!  And she didn’t take one that I was considering.   

 

Chose Royce

 

Jordan looked at me, “Meg. We’ve been here for 35 minutes.  I’m sure this family would like to have dinner and get us out of their house.”  I turned to him, anguished.  “HOW. AM. I. GOING. TO. DECIDE?  I.  CANNOT. DECIDE.  YOU choose FOR me.”  Jordan tried not to roll his eyes, “Meg, I’ve chosen one.  You choose.  It will be okay, I promise.”  

I glanced from kitten to kitten again and I came back to the first one I picked up.  It seemed friendly.  It curled into me when I picked it up.  It was soft.  It was striped like a tiger.  It had a cute face.  (Who am I kidding?  ALL kittens have cute faces.) This decision wasn’t as clear as I had thought it was going to be, but I had made my decision.  “This is the one, “ I sighed, unconvinced.  “You’re the one, little kitty,” I whispered in its ear.   

 

Go Home

Jordan handed me his kitten, fished his wallet out of his back, right pocket and handed the woman $20.  I couldn’t believe it, two squirmy, beautiful, perfect, cute kittens for $20.  This.  Was.  soexciting.  We walked to the car and sat, looking at each other.  “Should we put them in the carrier we brought?”  “mew.”  “No,” said Jord, “Let them sit (mew!) with you.. “ “MEW!”.  I settled them both in my lap, stroked their soft fur and whispered, “Don’t be scared, you’re going to love your new home.”  They continued to mew, sounding just like kittens who were looking for their mom.  I felt terribly.  How could we take them?  Will they miss their mom? I wondered.  They were absolutely discontent.  They were getting increasingly noisy and started to climb up my sweater to my shoulder.  “Jord! I don’t think this is safe!”  I extracted each of their claws from my wool sweater, deposited them quickly into the pet carrier, and zipped them in.  I kept my hands on the screened part in hopes of comforting them, and sat back in the seat.  I looked over at Jordan and said, “Okay… who’s who?”  Jordan looked at the cats, carefully and mulled over the names we had already selected for our new family members.  “Mine is Bentley, “ he said, “Yours is Royce.”  I smiled and thought, “Now, we just have to wait until their first vet visit to find out if they are girls or boys.”  

One Small Moment at the Lake, by Carol Livingston

Granny’s green Chevy ground up the Snake Road,  a 30-degree grade driveway with 13 hairpin turns. Looking up from the breakfast table, I glimpsed the glossy side of the car, the wheels on the edge of the gravel road. The engine roared as she accelerated for the next of the  turns. We could hear gravel spitting out from the tires and the intermittent honking as Granny climbed the hill, announcing to oncoming drivers that she was on the road.

Almost daily, Granny headed to town from our lakeside cottage to purchase groceries for our noon-day dinner. From start to finish, she cooked a roast with baked potatoes, freshly cut garden green beans, ice tea or milk, and home-made pie or cookies for dessert. Our two families crowded into her cottage for a week every August, and she orchestrated dinner for the 10 of us every day. We ate at noon, so Granny could nap in the afternoon. It didn’t matter if it was a beautiful, sunny clear-water Lake day and we wanted to spend hours on the beach. We were expected up at the Cottage, dry, dressed, and quietly seated at the dining table by 11:30 sharp.

Every morning, Granny created her grocery list, and then headed into Canandaigua. She wore a button-down mid-calf dress and sturdy high heels, ready to shop at the butcher Mr. Meath’s and the Red & White grocery store. Sometimes she stopped at the dairy for milk and ice cream if it wasn’t a day when the milkman ventured down the hill to our cottages. She also bought the New York Times for Uncle Hy and mailed our letters to friends back home.

As she gathered up her list, her purse, car keys, and the outgoing mail, she grabbed the smelly paper bag of vegetable scraps. This was the time before garbage disposals, and she refused to dump the vegetable peelings and skins into the regular garbage. So every day she brought a paper bag of vegetable scraps up to the top of the hill to dump in the garbage pit.

Once she’d settled into her car, she then roared the engine, ensuring it was warmed up for the challenging uphill climb. At the top of the hill, just around the last hairpin turn, she stopped the car, stepping hard on the parking brake. She climbed out of the idling Chevy, carrying the bag of scraps, and then maneuvered up the grassy bank to the hidden pit about 20 feet off the road. Lined with narrow, rotting wood planks, the mouth of the pit was not easy to locate for the uninitiated. But Granny knew just where to stop the car, where to climb, where to carefully locate the open pit hidden in tall grass. And she did this in her dress and heels. Looking down near her feet, she threw in the paper bag of vegetable scraps, and then navigated her way back to the car and headed into town.

Growing up and seeing Granny go through this ritual a number of times, I never quite understood what she was doing, and I certainly never tried it myself. We were warned not to try, since the pit was hard to find and the boards rotting and uncertain. But this was a ritual, a routine, that Granny completed every trip to town.

As adults, we have tried to locate the pit, realizing now the value of this rich, hidden decomposed organic matter. But we have not been able to find it, and it has probably caved in, filled with leaves and brush of the many passing years. Today at home we pride ourselves on our carefully designed compost system and feel virtuous as we trek out in snow, rain, or sun to add scraps to our compost bin. But my 70-year-old Granny was clomping up road banks and high grass in her high heels in order to maintain her own compost. 45 years before it was in vogue.