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Legend has it that Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words.   His response:  “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” 

Smith Magazine decided to tap into that creative exercise as to one’s life story, and produced a book of compiled six-word memoirs, entitled “Not Quite What I Was Planning.”  Examples of submissions:

404: Life could not be found.

 

Rode the hare instead of tortoise.

 

Found success, lost relatives, then friends.

 

Ignored instructions; still picking up pieces.

 

I still miss my big brother.

 

Took road less traveled. Skinned knees.

 

Always the last in from recess.

 

 

Submit your own six-word memoir here.

 

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Duplex Planet

Duplex Planet

If, for some reason, you’ve been out of the loop for the last couple of decades, I wanted to bring the wonderful “Duplex Planet” to your attention.  I bought this book about ten years ago, and share it whenever I get the chance.  It’s an example of why I enjoy the biography business.  You never know what someone is going to say.

As activity director of the Duplex Nursing Home, David Greenberg became friends with the residents.  He had the idea of asking common and wacky questions to the residents, from “How did you meet your wife?” to “Who was Frankenstein?” and record their responses.  Because it was a nursing home, the mental processes of the residents varied.  “… the names of their conditions of deterioration mattered little to me,” wrote Mr. Greenberg.  “What did matter was that this was someone still very much alive, very interested in conversing, in entertaining or being entertained, in connecting with someone else.”

 

Excerpts:

 

What’s the most valuable thing you ever lost?

 

Well, to me it was valuable.  It was a letter written to us extolling the virtues of my son from the Superintendent of Schools.  He said it could be used as a letter of recommendation anytime in his life.  It told that he was not only good scholastically, but he had good character as well.  I lost it somewhere. It fell out of my pocket.  To me it was valuable.

 

Herman Seftel

 

What can you tell me about the Beatles?

 

I don’t know nothin’ about the Beatles.  I can tell you more about the Salem Fire.  June 25th, 1914.  It burned seven days and seven nights.  We had doughnuts and coffee by the Salvation Army. I also wrote a book on the Salem Fire.  Worked with the Salem Public Works Department, fifteen years.

 

Walter Kieran

 

What’s the worst trouble you were ever in?

 

Probably I’ve been in plenty, but I don’t remember it.  My memory isn’t as good as it used to be.  Used-to-be.  How long ago is that, huh? 

 

Fergie Ferguson

 

Treat yourself to this insightful, humorous and poignant book of collected conversations of seasoned individuals.

You Are A Classic

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So, what?  Biographies are not just for “famous people.”  Every single person has an interesting story to share.  Everyone. 

Ask five people you know the same question and see what different responses you get.  For example:  “When you were a child, what was something you got away with?”

Share your results here.

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A fellow historian recently attended an aging conference in Switzerland, where she learned that, in Germany alone, there are over 10,000 residents over the age of 100.  One of them was quoted as saying, “I stopped worrying about my children when they entered rest homes.”

Who is your oldest relative?  What is his or her earliest memory that you find really interesting?

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“We are such spendthrifts with our lives,”  Mr. Newman once told a reporter.  “The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster.  I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”

Paul Newman

Paul Newman

Thank you, Paul, for sharing your time on the planet with us, and setting a high bar for others to aspire.

You Are A Classic

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Some of my fellow historians were caught in the path of Hurricane Ike and are struggling with the lack of electricity, food and water.  How would you handle such a crisis?

One woman’s 89-year-old father is a veteran of WWII. His experiences during the war include his submarine’s reconnaissance of Iwo Jima prior to the invasion. He lives in Baytown (east of Houston) and his house was severely damaged in the hurricane. The eye of the storm traveled through his neighborhood, toppling seven huge trees in his yard, including one (30 inches in diameter) which tore through his home office and the bathroom next to it. Fortunately, he had evacuated to his son’s home in Austin so he wasn’t hurt, but it’s going to require a major effort to repair his house.

He had been scheduled to be a panelist for a WWII symposium at the National Museum of the Pacific War (Nimitz Museum) to speak about his war time experiences. Although he could have easily backed out, he was determined to fulfill his commitment. So, just a few days after the trauma of losing part of his house — including many of the papers he’d been working on for the presentation — he attended the symposium and spoke to the attendees.

The human spirit is capable of strength, clarity and wisdom. Each person has this spirit within him or her, regardless of the situation.

In your family, who has set such an example?

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