Memoir author Candy Mitchell shares a story
Candy Mitchell is working on her second family history. Her first book was about her great-grandfather, who traveled from Connecticut to Oklahoma during the land rush, and wound up as a newspaperman in Muskogee. Candy was able to use excerpts from his four journals to describe the trip, and added family photos and newspaper clips. As you can imagine, copies were snapped up at her family reunion! She hopes to have her second book finished early next year.
Here’s a passage from her forthcoming book — both fun to read, and a great reminder that sometimes the simplest of stories carry the greatest message. And Candy also shares her memoir-writing advice with us at the end!
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The Used Bread Store
I have many memories of my grandfather, Ben Noble, because my mother and I lived with her parents (my grandparents) in a tiny house in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I found out only in doing my family genealogy that my grandfather had been a chauffeur and a truck driver before I was born. I knew he had been a cook in the Army. He once said he never felt like he was important, since he never saw any action; all he ever did was cook. But my uncle once told him that feeding the servicemen so they could defend our country was a very important job.
My grandfather married Lillian Marie Howes, who most folks called “Sarge,” since she was known to always bark out orders. Grandmother was never a pleasant or friendly person, so I usually spent time with my grandfather. I asked him once why he did not divorce her. He said that he promised in a church before God and family he would always take care of her, so he would. I admired him for keeping that promise.
He used to go on the front porch to get away from her, weather allowing, or to the garage. Every day when it was about 3:00 p.m. the old black man that lived down the street would get off the bus and walk by our house. My grandfather would enjoy a brief visit with him and ask him about his day. He explained to me later that the man and his ancestors had a hard life, so he liked to be kind to him because not all white folks were kind to the blacks. I knew nothing about the Tulsa Race Riots yet, but I trusted what he said. We also saw another neighbor come off the bus and go to his house and he always told me to be really nice to him since he, too, had a hard time in his life. That neighbor was Jewish and had lost many family members. I did not know at the time what that meant.
Some days my grandfather left for long periods and would come back with a sack of bread, rolls, cookies, donuts and other treats. He said he went to the cheap “used bread” store. I wondered how it could be “used,” but found out it was the day-old bakery he went to. One day when things were especially tense and he was leaving, I asked to go with him. My mother was at work, and I did not like being left alone with Sarge. We drove to Sand Springs to the store, where they had so many wonderful-smelling baked goods I could hardly pick out just one sack. Then I knew how he could spend so much time there! But we were not finished yet.
He stopped at a small burger place on the way home and said we could get the best cheeseburgers here. At that time he was working as a cook at Bishops downtown, so I knew if he said they were good, they were great. When we went in everyone there was black. He was greeted by the cook, who called him by name, came around the counter and shook his hand and asked him if he wanted the usual. There must have been many times he came here for lunch that no one knew about. Then he saw me and asked who he had with him. Grandpa introduced me as his granddaughter and I held out my hand to shake, too, just as I had been taught. Everyone in the place was so quiet and looking at us. I think Grandpa was proud of me for being such a sweet and kind young lady. That day was always just our secret and we went a few more times. The burger place is gone now, but not the wonderful memories of our special times there.
I realize how fortunate I was to have such a caring grandfather, and for him to teach me to be kind to many different faiths and races. I never forgot.
Candy’s Memoir Advice:
I have been busy writing about my family history because I am the last of my line. I was fortunate to be left with over twenty boxes of photos and journals from both sides of my family.
Getting my tree on Ancestry was a first step, then writing about each person is my next goal. Not knowing exactly how to start, I thought if I looked at the photos it would help. I pulled 75 photos that were my favorites and put them together in date order. When I thought about what I could write on each one, I realized that if I did that, I would have a book! This was the story about my grandfather when I looked at his photo of him in uniform. I wanted to tell about how very kind he was to everyone and about how much he influenced my life.
This may be one idea to help others start a book: simply write about each photo and you will have an illustrated book! Start with immediate family and photos and write what you know. Don’t worry about fancy wording, just write as if you were telling a friend about your relative.
I used LuLu for printing for my previous book about my great-grandfather and his trip to Oklahoma during the land rush. I made copies for our family reunion, and donated one to the Tulsa genealogy library. For this book, I plan to print about 12 books for friends and the library. Prices run around $5-$7 for a 5 x 7 paperback.
I hope this helps others make their first book too.