Manuscripts of a lives well-lived

 

When Tiffany White asked a group of ladies about writing their life stories, Marion wanted to say yes. But she knew her ninety-two-year-old eyes would no longer guide her penmanship. Still, she had so much to share. So she dusted off her typewriter and positioned her hands over the old familiar keys.

Now, with the sound of each tap, her life story begins to take shape. Sometimes her fingers drift over to the wrong keys as she recalls an almost forgotten detail of her life—like baking pies with her friends, or that day during World War II when she witnessed the public reprimand of a fellow U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reservist for stealing. But as Tiffany reads the typed chapter back to Marion, together they make the corrections.

“I have a heart to help seniors write their life stories,” says Tiffany, who meets each week with a group of residents at San Gabriel Senior Village. A few years ago, she wanted to know more about her grandparents. “I asked my grandmother to write a letter about her life before I was born,” Tiffany says. She had a blast reading the letter. “It’s like finding a box in the attic. I loved learning new things about her,” Tiffany remembers. So she set out to create the same experience for others, utilizing a mission outreach for the community, sponsored by her church, Hill Country Bible Church. Tiffany joined with Karen Hargrove, a church member and resident of San Gabriel Senior Village. Last February, they formed a group and named it the Life Writers Project.

“I made a list of questions to help jar memories and get things going,” Tiffany explains. She offers a packet of questions and instructions—queries about school, marriage, travel, history, and God. She asks questions like “How has the world changed, in your eyes?” and “If you were giving a speech about marriage to a group of engaged ladies/gentlemen, what would you say?” Tiffany believes everyone has an important story to tell and that we are each called to raise future generations. She spent time doing research, pulling together information from various sources, and offering her own advice for writing an autobiography.

At their Friday meetings, the Life Writers go over what they’ve written during the week—some, like Marion, want help, while others just want to share what they’ve written. “Sometimes I think I see a misspelled word, but then I realize it’s the name of something from long ago, something I didn’t know about. Each week, I learn something new,” Tiffany says.

Listening to Marion share details of her life inspired Sue, another writer, to remember some details of her own. “When Marion talked about forming a ladies group, I remembered that when my son became deaf, we formed the Parent’s Association for the Deaf, so we could have a voice. I never thought to include it in my story. But it is an important detail,” she says. Tiffany agrees. “That’s why we’re doing this—because people have such interesting stories.”

Everyone writes at her own pace. Tiffany plans to publish each story in a bound book, complete with photos, using a popular online source, so these ladies can preserve the details of their extraordinary lives. “With each printed book, we’ll have a little party to celebrate. We’re hoping that once everyone sees that we have finished books, they’ll be interested in joining us,” Tiffany says.

Ninety-four-year-old Lottie had already written her life story, so for her project, she chose to write about the history of Williamson County and the San Gabriel River, in particular the two forks that run on both sides of San Gabriel Senior Village. Tiffany reviews a page from Lottie’s work and says, “You have beautiful handwriting.” Lottie responds with “Well, I don’t think I spell very well anymore.” But Lottie’s words are beautifully written and understood as Tiffany reads them aloud: “May I suggest these two streams began a romance, finally meeting in Georgetown, and becoming one larger and more powerful river?”

“This [project] also serves as a ministry,” Tiffany says. She keeps track of prayer requests, and they discuss updates in their families. The group members pray for one another, sharing coffee and sometimes a sweet roll. But before long, someone tells an old story, and the others listen with great interest.

Fast-forward many years from now: A young woman holds a book written in her own great-great-great grandmother’s words—how she got through the Great Depression and World War II, or how she raised a deaf son and helped form a support group to fight for his rights. Perhaps those words reassure the young woman when she needs inspiration. They let her know that everything turns out all right.

Tiffany’s vision is that the books will be passed down through time and that these life stories will bring hope, wisdom, and strength for generations to come. Tiffany smiles and says, “I’m excited that someone else is going to read a book and have the same excitement I had when I read that letter from my grandmother.”


For more information about the Life Writers Project, please visit their Facebook page or contact Tiffany White at
210-827-7072.

To help with the cost of printing these stories, please contact Hill Country Bible Church at 512-863-7325.

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