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Memoir, Writing Letters And Leaving Your Legacy

Updated: Sep 12

My mum is old school and every year writes a letter from Spain and sends it to what is left of the family. But with each passing year, she wonders what to write. She is amusing, with a sometimes weird sense of humour. She sometimes laughs at the most inappropriate things, which leaves me bemused. She hasn't had the most fun life, is a worrier and after endless worrying, she likes to see the funny side of life.

Memoir, Writing Letters And Leaving Your Legacy

Normally, it feels like she has lots of stories for her letters. But this year, she felt flat, and it’s no wonder. After several years of lockdown, she is just getting her groove back. But that still left her with a puzzle – what should she write about?

When in her 60s, mum is now 84, she wrote her memoir ‘Only When I Laugh’ subtitled The Exploits Of Pat Malpass. In it, she shares some rather comedic times of her life, which were actually quite sad.

She says, “Our saving grace as humans, I believe, is our innate sense of humour, without which we could all find ourselves following the lemmings over the edge.”

Over the last nine years that I have lived in Spain, I’ve got to know my mum as a woman and friend and have her as a mum. I’ve discovered more about the stories I held as true as a child and seen these from a different perspective. It has sometimes been an eye-opener to see my exploits from her point of view with her comedic delivery.

Our storytelling has drawn us closer, and I’ve come to understand so much about her. I’d hate her stories to die. And talking of death, she has it all planned. I have what feels like a million stories to tell when that time comes that will open other family members' eyes to what a beautiful soul she is. I’d love our family to get this glimpse into her life as she tells it before she goes off the Soul Place.

Back in the day, Uncle Jack, a recently divorced dance lover, would pick up Mum, 15, on his motorcycle and take her into Lincoln to dance at the Montana School of Dancing. She, resplendent in a headscarf, heels and dress, would travel to this magical place to participate in one of her great loves - dancing. Can you imagine these days riding a bike in such attire?

When she told me the story of her dances and how they lifted her from the drudge of her life. I went in search of the Montana School (ballroom) and to my amazement, I found a picture of the building. An art deco building, which I can imagine to the young Pat, looked like the dance hall of fame. I can see her having fun and letting the music and dance transport her to places beyond the every day.

This story is wonderful yet tragic because Mum can no longer dance. She has 6 spinal fractures from osteoporosis and can only walk with a wheeler now.

Growing up, I remember Mum dolling herself up for a Saturday night out, and all she wanted to do was dance while my dad got wasted. Like at 15, it took her away from the reality of her life. She also belly danced and danced Sevillana. I can recall stories of a woman terrified of doing anything in public, getting on stage at local fiestas and doing her thing. And her thing didn't always go to plan...

The Montana School of Dancing gives everyone a glimpse into the hopes and dreams of a young Pat, already battered by life, acne and horrible hand-me-downs. I know she will tell it in a way that will take the reader back to those times, and possibly, some readers will recall similar experiences. While others will see that she wasn’t always old but a woman following a passion.

The next is the tale of Mum, the dressmaker. I remember her spending hours cutting out patterns and painstakingly, making beautiful frocks for her Saturday nights out. On one occasion, early in their marriage, when money was tight, she had made herself a long white dress for a night at the Mess and what a mess she got into.

A woman keen on my rather handsome dad deliberately spilt red Campari on her gorgeous dress. Furious, and determined not to show that she cared, she drank a lot - too much. At some point, she staggered to the toilet for a wee.

Wobbling around, she managed to get her dress over her head and hovered her bottom over the toilet while clinging to the walls. Mum never sat on anyone's toilet but her own.

Sadly, the toilet lid was down, and her urine splattered over the walls and floor. Her dress flung back into position, then sucked up the yellow liquid and added to the dash of red on her already ruined dress.

She will deliver this story so that it is funny, but it hides the sadness of marrying a man who was supposed to be her Bridge Over Troubled Water. He was the troubled water. She never felt loved or good enough and always felt second-best in the theatre surrounding my dad.

In her letter, she will share the stories of the past not to make anyone feel sorry for her but so that they can remember her ability to turn tragedy into comedy and remember her not as an old woman but as someone who has lived, survived and made the best of the hand she was dealt.

You can do the same. If writing a memoir is too much for you. Consider an annual letter to your family and tell them your stories. Leave your legacy in a different way.

I know from Mum that her nieces keep her letters. When she is gone, Aunty Pat will live on in her hearts, not as someone who endured sadness and rejection, but as a talented writer, painter and dancer. They will remember her as someone who laughed at life even though it was painful. They will remember her with love and fondness.

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