Treasure Chest of Memories

Our stories don’t start the day we are born but long before that. The decisions made by our parents and their parents, whether biological or adopted, have an impact on our lives. Their legacy, their dreams and ideas influence our childhood experiences and the choices we make as adults. Understanding who they were helps us recognize certain patterns in ourselves, and gives us a sense of love and belonging. It also brings us closer to them, especially if they are no longer on this beautiful earth.

Laura Hedgecock, a freelance writer, blogger, and speaker, has a passion for helping others share their stories. This stems from a gift left by her grandmother. Shortly before her death, Hazel Crymes passed on an old spiral notebook filled with a lifetime of memories, which she dubbed her “Treasure Chest of Memories.”  Her writings included childhood memories, stories of her children as they grew, good recipes, and wisdom she had gathered along the way.

So Laura wrote a book to guide hobbyists with writing prompts, exercises, and varied examples. The book is called Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. Using this guide, even beginning writers will find that they too are capable of sharing their memories and compiling a legacy for their loved ones.

Drawing on her grandmother’s “Treasure Chest,” as well as her experience in genealogy, photography, scrapbooking, writing, and blogging, and her own journey compiling such a “Treasure Chest,” Laura empowers memory collectors with down-to-earth, practical advice and creative ideas. Similarly, her second book, Blogging for Family History: How to Launch a Blog and Make it Successfulprovides a road map for family historians to launch a professional blog.

The process of collecting memories can be quite fun and adventurous.  One of Laura’s blog posts, for instance, talks about how to identify emotional family heirlooms. She writes, “Heirlooms can be a bit like flowers. One person’s flowers are another person’s weeds.” To figure out what one should pull and what they should fertilize, she advises to look around and start asking questions. To look for objects you’ve always taken for granted, travel treasures, such as items brought back from military or business travel overseas, and even furniture. To explore the attic, basement, or garage for long-sealed boxes.

For immigrants or refugees, or people who lost their homes to fires or disasters, the items might be few in number but the story behind it could fill hundreds of pages. The process could be therapeutic. For me, it was very healing to write a memoir series which helped me discover the powerful women in my lineage and to recognize the affects our departure from my birth country of Iraq had left on me.

The day we left Iraq was so hush-hush I didn’t even know about it. One day I was in Baghdad, and the next day – poof! – I was in Amman, Jordan. I have no recollection of our actual departure, which type of transportation carried us across the border or what happened when we arrived. Everything happened so fast and in secrecy, because we couldn’t let anyone know we were heading for America. We disappeared as quickly as sugar in a cup of hot tea, and then we began a new life.

We spent almost a year in Amman awaiting our visa to the United States. Until we arrived to Michigan, I had no idea that I would never again enter the home, school, and neighborhood where I grew up. Suddenly, I discovered I was no longer going to see my friends. We never even said goodbye.

I spent years wanting to ask my family, “Why have you uprooted me from my birthplace and brought me here?” I felt like a plant taken out of the soil. After repotting, plants often enter a state of shock as they adapt to the new environment and struggle to get over the shock of being uprooted and moved.  But my family was so busy acclimating and surviving, I could not express how I felt – until decades later, when I began writing my memoir. I was able to share story now and for future generations.

You too can start sharing your memories, ideas and stories through journaling, blogging, or a book. It might be difficult to be honest about your discovery and finding a loving and authentic way to share it, but this would be an opportunity to write what you’re most passionate about – you and your loved ones.

Visit Laura’s website to learn more

A Walk Through Time

“Memories play a pivotal role in storytelling whether you’re interested in writing short stories, children’s books, creative non-fiction, a memoir, or a novel,” says Cheryl Crabb. “Memories can provide backstory and help reveal and develop character, but they also have the power to propel your narrative forward in interesting ways. That said, for many writers, manipulating memories by moving between then and now and into the future can often be a difficult path to navigate.”

I couldn’t agree more. All my 12 books – from fiction to nonfiction, poetry and memoir – I’ve called upon the past to guide me into formulating words on paper. Our favorite and least favorite memories can provide a treasure of good literary ideas.  

Cheryl says that in his craft book, Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, author Umberto Eco invites us as his companions to: “Come stroll with me through the leafy glades of narrative …”  He also asks us to consider: How does the narrative lead us on, [AND] persuade us to lose ourselves in its depths?

“I don’t know about you, but when I first began to ponder this question, I started to get afraid,” she says. “I felt like I was alone in the woods without direction. And for me, few things are more terrifying than getting lost, especially in the woods. It makes me want to turn around and run home. I suspect I’m not alone in this fear, which often is so intense that it prevents us as writers from entering the woods in the first place.”

She adds that, instead, we choose to stay within the safe confines and comfort of more familiar territory. She encourages people to journey “deep into the woods and beyond” and will be leading a workshop for the Detroit Working Writers Conference on November 10 that will help writers explore how memories can help shape our stories and perhaps even change our lives.

A Wisconsin native, Cheryl Crabb is a long-time journalist and emerging fiction writer. She has worked for fifteen years in newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Hartford Courant, and been a guest columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She lives with her husband and their three daughters in Northville and enjoys volunteering for 826michigan, which provides writing programs to school-age students. She recently received her MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is currently seeking representation for her novel, The Other Side of Sanctuary

Her novel  is based on the premise that everyone needs a sanctuary, but what happens when there is no longer a place for refuge? Set in the fictional village of Sanctuary along the Sleeping Bear Dunes of northern Michigan, it’s a dual-narrative, literary thriller about a young couple’s troubled marriage and the spooling tensions that arise as a dark series of events unfolds.

“Time draws the shapes of stories.” Joan Silber asserts in the introduction to The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takes.   “… all fiction has to contend with the experience of time passing. … A story can arrange events in any order it finds useful, but it does have to move between then and now and later.”  So, as Silber interprets it: “A story is already over before we hear it. That is how the teller knows what it means.”

Memories are a rich source for writers. When we bring them to life, we learn a new lesson, see a different perspective. My fondest memories are of the wonderful magic I experienced when, as a child, I walked to school in Baghdad, wearing a custom-made uniform, my hair in braids, tied by bright white imitation silk ribbons. I remember those walks so well: the frosty grass in the winter, birds chirping in spring, the sounds of my shoes click-clacking against an ancient surface that once was famed as the wealthiest and richest city in the world. On my way home from school, I could tell from the aroma what my mother had cooked. Various vegetable stews served over rice are a major part of Iraqi cuisine. The vegetables range from eggplant to cucumber. My favorites were okra stew and northern white bean stew.

Drawing from your favorable and not so favorable memories is a way to help you celebrate your life and those who have shared your journey. It’s a luxury to sit and reflect on the past, to evaluate it, recognize certain patterns and learn along the way. You come to learn that experiences, your stories, are much more fascinating and interesting than those of celebrities. Writing from your memories is transformational.

Watch the half-hour interview with Cheryl and check out the upcoming Detroit Working Writers Conference, visit

Cheryl's Book
Cheryl Crabb contributed to this children’s book