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1308 PD: Autobiography continued

Yevet Tenney Published on 29 August 2008

Last issue, I shared some ideas about how to write an autobiography. This issue, I would like to continue on the same subject by pointing out a few techniques that will help your writing to be more interesting.

I hope you won’t mind my using part of my autobiography to show some examples.

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First of all, writing should be clear and legible.Typing is good, but it is also nice to write part of your history in your own handwriting for posterity’s sake. If you have ever looked at the penmanship in an old document, such as the Declaration of Independence, you can see why your posterity will love to see how you write.

In writing an autobiography, you want to be descriptive. Set the scene so that you take your readers right into your story. Use all of the senses – sight, sound, smell and touch. Each sense will prick an emotion in your reader, and will help you to remember better. Add just enough detail to make it interesting. Don’t try to tell everything. First of all, you can’t. Second, you will get bogged down and never finish if you try to tell everything.

Use the names of persons and how they connect to you. Write the names of your family members. You may know whom you are talking about, but you are writing for posterity. Generations pass and people forget. That is why you are writing. Write your history to someone who doesn’t already know about you. It will be more fun and you will not lose the details that are important.

When you are writing, be positive. Someday you will be in your casket, and your family members will stare down at you with love. After the funeral, they will gather up your possessions. What a delight to find an autobiography. What if you have whined and complained about everyone and everything? What a double heartbreak! Be positive. Use humor in your writing. Look for miracles and lessons that you have learned from living life. That is what your children and grandchildren will want to read.

Am I saying you need to sugarcoat the truth? No! If you are going to tell about a struggle, you need to make sure that it is a struggle you have resolved. Tell how you overcame the obstacle. Then it is worth reading. If you don’t tell how you solved the problem, you are just complaining. Remember, you don’t want to deepen the wounds of your loved ones by complaining about how they treated you.

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The following is an excerpt from my autobiography. Hopefully, you will find examples of each of the writing tips I have mentioned.

History of Charlotte Yevet Crandell Tenney
I was born on a rainy Labor Day on September 3, 1951. The little town of Heber, where my parents lived, was flooded with muddy water. The sheets mother hung on the line to dry dragged in the mud waiting for a sunny day. A few days earlier, mother had taken refuge in Winslow, Navajo County, Arizona, where her doctor was, to avoid the chance of being stranded with no doctor when the baby came.

Mother, Charlotte Ann Despain, and Daddy, Harold Jay Crandell, were the proud parents of three other children before I came: Margaret Ann, Chester J. and Claudia Elizabeth. Two other children, Bobby Harold and Mary Jane, were born after me.

Mother was born in Zeniff, Navajo, Arizona and grew up on a ranch near there called Dry Lake. Her parents, Claude Henry Despain and Mildred Hunt lived there with his parents, Henry Waters Despain and Elizabeth Tanner. Elizabeth and Henry bought the land and were cattle ranchers and farmers.

Daddy was born in a two-room log house in Heber, Navajo County, Arizona. His parents were Harold Jay Crandell and Lovine Porter. Harold and Lovine were loggers. They were very active in the church after they married. So Daddy grew up in a family who trusted and served the Lord.

My parents were active in church service and had strong testimonies of the gospel. Daddy served in the military during World War II. When he came home, he drove truck, worked as a mechanic and worked for the forest service to support his growing family.

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The sky around my hometown of Heber, Arizona wept the week before I was born. It rained in torrents, flooding the Black Canyon and the Buckskin Creeks that join in the Heber Valley. The small church, school and few houses nestled below the pine-covered limestone cliffs were drenched. The week-old laundry hung out to dry drooped in the mud while the foamy floodwater bubbled down the streets.

I guess my impetuous nature reached back into the spirit world because I was ready to come long before they were ready for me. Mom left the flooding streets of Heber for Winslow, pending my arrival a couple of days early.

Doctor Peterson, the attending doctor, checked Mother and assumed I’d be a while.

“I’m going to step across the street for a bite to eat,” he said as he opened the door. “Your baby won’t be here for a while.”

He turned back as he exited. “Don’t worry Mrs. Crandell. I’ll be right back.”

Mom settled down for the wait, which turned out to be only a few minutes. She called for the nurse. The nurse sauntered in.

“Yes, Mrs. Crandell?”

“I think I’m ready to go to the delivery room.”

“You can’t be ready. The doctor said you would be a while.” The nurse started out the door.

“Yes I am,” Mother insisted, “This baby is coming.”

“No you’re not.” The nurse nearly bumped into another nurse as she started to exit.

“What is going on?” the new nurse demanded.

With a condescending twist of the head, the nurse smirked. “Mrs. Crandell says she’s ready to go to delivery.”

The new nurse sprang into action. “If Mrs. Crandell says she’s ready, she’s ready!” Evidently she had attended other Crandell births. Mom was never slow in delivery after the first one.

The other nurse wanted to protest, but the serious urgent movement of the new nurse, helping Mom onto the gurney, kept her from speaking.

As Mom settled down on the gurney, I made my appearance. “Oh my! Oh my! Oh! Oh!” The nurse’s professionalism went to panic. “What shall I do? What shall I do?”

“Go call the doctor,” the other nurse said calmly. Hands flailing in distress, the nurse fled from the room. Her voice could be heard after the intermittent whir of the telephone.

“Is Dr. Peterson there?” There was a pause. “Mrs. Crandell is having her baby! Come quick!”

The doctor’s exasperated voice trilled on the other end, “Ya don’t say!”

“I do say!”

“Ya don’t say!”

While the nurse and the doctor were deciding who was saying what, I started wailing the announcement that Charlotte Yevet Crandell had made her entrance onto the stage of life and wanted to play her part, whatever it was going to be.

Mom got the idea for my name from a prenatal baby shower. The guests played a game to name the baby. Yevet was a name Mom liked. Daddy liked Charlotte. They put both names together and came up with Charlotte Yevet. Years later, I worked for the forest service and a forest ranger, James McSloy told me what the names mean (James McSloy’s hobby was researching names). Charlotte means Little, and Yevet means Archer. The name Crandell comes from the people who settled in a dell in the Cran Islands. So my name means little archer from Cran Dale. I’ve always taken pride in being a matchmaker. Those instincts come naturally, I guess. I certainly have the name for it.

In a bundle of pink and a frilly lace dress (Mom said I got a lot of frilly dresses at the shower), I came home to Heber. Mom was so proud of her lovely little girl. She was shocked and amazed when people would ooh and aah then say, “What a cute baby boy you have! What’s his name?”

I guess I did look like a boy. I was bald and not particularly pretty. Mom says I was, but I’ve seen pictures, and moms are prejudiced.

I loved my mother as long as she nursed me, but for some reason she got milk poisoning and had to stop. At that tender age, I decided if she couldn’t feed me I would find someone who could. Margaret Ann, my older sister, who was in the seventh grade at the time, warmed a bottle for me and stuck it in my mouth. From that day on, she was my mom. I didn’t even know that other lady. I’d squall and fuss every time she took me. It goes to show how early fickle traits take root.

Writing an autobiography is great fun, and is worth every second you spend doing it. I hope you will take the challenge to put your life’s experiences on the page for your posterity. PD

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