Grandma: A stellar source for writer’s research & just on the other end of the phone line

grandma and little girl

This grandmother may be cute, but she’s not as awesome as mine! (On the other hand, the little girl is much cuter than I ever was.)

I happen to be blessed with an amazing grandmother. At 92 (she should live to 120!) she’s slowed down a bit, and I wish I could spend more time with her. I used to phone just once a week, but I’m trying to call her more often, as it’s now hard for her to get out and about the way she used to. I fill her in on what’s going on around here, and she tells me what she’s been up to.

Frequently, what my grandma is up to is sorting through old letters, photos, magazines, and other memorabilia. After a series of moves into ever smaller homes, and the deaths of relatives who endowed her with their own treasures, Grandma has needed to toss some of her mementos–but she hangs on to a lot of them. Some of these treasures have sentimental value, others have historical ones. A few even made it into the collections of small museums. She’s started collaborating with genealogists in extended parts of the family, and loves updating us on new and occasionally illuminating (or wacky) bits of family history.

Last month, Binyan published one of my stories based very loosely one of the family events that Grandma told me about a few times over the years (in increasing detail as more facts came to light). And then, when I was reading Bird by Bird a few weeks back, Anne Lamott discussed writing as a gift, a tribute, to the ones you love. So when I was a bit stumped about the piece I’m writing for a couple weeks before Pesach in the same magazine, I thought, “Maybe I could get some details from Grandma that would be helpful.” I phoned Grandma and we schmoozed for about a half an hour all about Grandma’s childhood memories. I little additional research filled in the gaps, and I had a material for a short story with realistic details about the time period and location.

The best part of the experience wasn’t the story (although I’m very excited about it). It was the time spent with Grandma over the phone and sharing her wisdom and laughing with her about her girlhood mistakes. A picture of Grandma emerged so different from the adult Grandma I know and love–a young lady with all the emotional ups and downs as tweens and teens everywhere.

Has anyone else tapped this amazing and fun resource for their writing?

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2 thoughts on “Grandma: A stellar source for writer’s research & just on the other end of the phone line

  1. Yes, absolutely, Both my grandmothers were “shmoozers” and also writers. My mother’s mother would collect memorabilia (as your grandmother did) and pictures, and stuff and make scrapbooks and show us things. When she was in Germany , she bought a really expensive camera that took amazing pictures and took those pictures with the family when they came 1938 from Germany before the War. That grandmother wrote a lot of letters when she got older and we saved the letters and put them into a huge scrapbook for the family. My other grandmother was more philosophical. Wrote poetry and told stories of her childhood and friends to us. I could listen for hours and that grandmother was very into relationships and cousins and so forth. It’s so fascinating talking to older people. I love that part of my work with the elderly in nursing homes. Thanks for the great post.

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    • My grandma LOVES to write. Poems, stories. She has amazing volumes of correspondence, particularly from during WWII. I think she also has her parents love letters.

      The biggest thing she has is diaries from the age of 16 on. Her uncle, Morris, gave her a journal at that age. She used the same model from Woolworth’s for years and years.

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