Where History Meets Memoir
“You have such a wonderful collection of oldies!” the babysitter gushed, flipping through our 33 rmp Beatles, Doors, and Cream. Oldies? To us, they were just records.
“Vietnam? We studied about that in history class,” a young man told me later. To me it wasn’t coursework, but a major force shaping my life.
None of my history classes ran past World War II, well before my earliest memories. Not until my freelance years editing K-12 social studies materials did I begin to see historical accounts of events I recalled. Some, like the Cuban missile crisis, I barely noticed when they happened. Martin Luther King’s assassination and President Nixon’s resignation held my full attention from a distance. A few, like the shootings at Kent State in 1970, hit closer to home as I visited a sister campus nearby.
The older I get, the more current events conjure up times remembered. Nothing is new under the sun; everything is new because of context and hindsight. Histories depict the forest; we live from day to day in the trees. Writing memoir never drew me, but history always did. The line between the two grows ever thinner as I age.
Image: Kent State University, May 4, 1970. I was at Oberlin College, babe in arms, to find student housing for my soldier husband’s return to finish his degree. All Oberlin (including the housing office) closed down on hearing the news from Kent.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.