My Mom's Growing Years
eye-opening stories from my mother's memoirs
I own hundreds of books and the most valuable title is one not found in any bookstore or library. It is a self-published autobiography by my mother, Helen Mary Goff, written a few years before her death.
My Growing Years was a project Mom took on after attending a memoir-writing course at the Rhinelander School of the Arts. As a result, my family and I have a very detailed account of her farm life growing up in central Iowa in the 1930s and 1940s.
The book is 128 pages long with more than 100 scanned photographs. She answered more than 100 questions about her family, friends, education, and world events. Sample questions include “How did your parents meet?” “Can you remember the view out your window?” “What neighborhood games did you play?” “Did you have a nickname?” “Was there any place in your house that scared you?” and “Were you ever in a big snowstorm?”
Mom’s book not only tells us about herself, but it also helps me and my siblings know who we are, where we came from. It helps my children know who they are as well, and soon, it will help my grandchildren.
There are stories that make me smile with pride. Mom walked two miles each way to school and back. It sounds like one of those exaggerated “brags” that one generation tells to a younger one but yes, she did walk those daily four miles through snow, rain, and heat. And there was a big hill halfway between her house and school. Mom and her brothers would pick up farm kids along the way until they had a whole parade of kids heading to their one-room country school.
There are stories that make me chuckle. Mom tells about a kid named Tubby who sat behind her in school. One day, Tubby stuck one of Mom’s pigtails in his inkwell that sat on his desk and afterward had his seat moved up by the teacher’s desk. It sounds like something out of a Little Rascals movie.
There are stories that make my jaw drop. During World War II, when they were still kids, my Uncle Hugh killed my Uncle Truman’s prize-winning roosters by hanging them with a rope in the barn, proudly proclaiming to my grandparents that he had hung Hitler and Mussolini. Another story that made me do a double-take involved Truman, who was clinically depressed and shot himself in the abdomen in a suicide attempt. He survived, and I have childhood memories of visiting him at the institution where he was committed and lived out his days.
There are stories that give a true sense of that time and place. Mom made the local newspaper because she won a college scholarship. She got a whole double-column and the small-town paper described her as “the hazel-eyed, dark haired gal with rosy cheeks and winning smile” and after hearing Mom’s plans to become a teacher after college, the reporter ends the article by writing, “I’d gladly polish up an apple for her.”
And there are stories that make me grateful. I know that Mom and Dad’s first official date was on the Fourth of July in 1952. They had met earlier that summer when they both got jobs at the Woodward State Hospital as recreational directors. Mom invited Dad to the farm for homemade ice cream, strawberries, and raspberries. That evening, they went to a drive-in movie. A month later, Dad shared a photo of Mom with his mother and sister and told them that she was the girl he was going to marry. Thank goodness that prophetic proclamation came true.
Mom’s memoir ends the year before I was born. Her book not only tells us about herself, but it also helps me and my siblings know who we are, where we came from. It helps my children know who they are as well, and soon, it will help my grandchildren.
Mom inspired me to begin writing the story of my own childhood, answering many of the same questions she followed from her class in Rhinelander. This is something everyone can do, not only for themselves, but for their loved ones. You can use the questions from the board game Life Stories to help get started. There are also online questions centered around family memories at StoryCorps.org.
I am grateful Mom made print copies for all of her children and grandchildren. It’s nice to have my personal copy in a floor basket next to my bed. Without this book, many of the stories would have disappeared. Now, they get to live on a bit longer.