Memoir Monday: BJ Talks About Her Memoir


On the eve of her 98th birthday, BJ talks about what her memoir means to her. She reads it and knows she’s loved. Written with Patricia Benesh using 7 Memories: Partnering to Write a Memoir.



Memoir Monday: In Thinking About Obituaries, A Memoir on Dying

Patricia Wall/ New York Times

From Patricia Benesh, Ed.D: In teaching people how to write obituaries, I’m not really obsessed with dying. Quite the opposite. I’m passionate about finding the beautiful essence of each person and celebrating it. The “Awesome Obituary” is 90% about life and 10% about death. It’s modeled on the New York Times obits.

I’m excited to teach it at the La Mesa Oasis at 1:30 Wednesday (Oct. 11th). In looking for quotes, I came across a review of a wonderful memoir by Cory Taylor, relating how dealing with death, causes one to reflect on life.

From a New York Times Review by Jennifer Senior:

“It’s almost inevitable that dying makes you reflect on your past, which perhaps explains why “Dying” is not merely a meditation on the present, but a journey backward in time…”

Every passing life leaves something beautiful behind. Celebrate it in an “Awesome Obit.”


Available at Amazon

Memoir Monday: Maya Angelou Talks About Memoir Writing

Maya Angelou talked about memoir writing with George Plimpton in 1990

“Autobiography is awfully seductive; it’s wonderful. Once I got into it I realized I was following a tradition established by Frederick Douglass — the slave narrative — speaking in the first-person singular talking about the first-person plural, always saying I meaning we. And what a responsibility! Trying to work with that form, the autobiographical mode, to change it, to make it bigger, richer, finer, and more inclusive in the twentieth century has been a great challenge for me. … The greatest compliment I receive is when people walk up to me on the street or in airports and say, Miss Angelou, I wrote your books last year and I really — I mean I read … that the person has come into the books so seriously, so completely, that he or she, black or white, male or female, feels, That’s my story. I told it. I’m making it up on the spot.” —The Paris Review  

Excerpt from The Cut

Memoir Monday: Remembering My Determined Mom in a Rolling Romance

My mom was the type of woman who always enjoyed having a man in her life. As proof, she was married four times.

Single again at 89, she moved to a nursing home. It took her only a few days to notice a good looking man. She would station her wheelchair in the hallway and watch as he rolled by–and wait. He always turned and gave her a big smile.

She was excited and wanted to meet this dashing older man and told a few of the other ladies. “Well, get to the back of the line!” was their response. He was adored by them all—and they all vied for his attention.

Worse, he was a player! She was warned by a nurse.

Despite the admonishments and warnings, my mom remained undaunted. Even when it was clear that he spoke only Spanish and she spoke only English, she was not deterred.

For the four years in the nursing home, she would wait in the hallway for him. He would stop his wheelchair, take her hand, and give her his great smile. Then he’d roll on by leaving her mesmerized.

Memoir Monday: Remembering Alice Fern (Part 1)


(Excerpt written using 7 Memories: Partnering to Write a Memoir)

This is my grandmother, Alice Fern, with her brothers Robert and Edmund. Alice was born in Ensenada, Mexico on Mexican Independence Day in 1897. Her brothers thought that the September 16th fireworks celebrated the birth of their new baby sister!

Alice’s brothers always teased her about being born in Baja California, Mexico, since they had been born in Upper California, which was part of the United States. Because of that teasing, Alice never learned Spanish, even though she spent a lot of time in Mexico.

The children’s father, Herman, was the foreman of a fruit cannery in Ensenada. The company canned apricots, pears, and peaches and sent them north by ship to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The children and their mother traveled to Ensenada by boat.

In a letter, Alice’s mother, Florence, describes going through the foggy marshes near San Diego. Six-year-old Edward and four-year-old Robert were frightened during the all-night journey. In the morning, they were met at the dock by Mrs. Bennett, the English owner of the fruit ranch. She greeted the travelers with a bouquet of heliotrope, roses, and carnations.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Memoir Monday: Scarlett O’Hara Meets the Man of Her Dreams

(Excerpt written using 7 Memories: Write Your Memoir in 28 Days)

Scarlett O’Hara Meets Phil Harmonica

I felt like a dead ringer for Scarlett with my full hoop skirt, parasol and bonnet. And I was so over the disappointment of my “date” flaking out on me at the Tau Omicron Phi party as I danced with other guys. It was 1978 and I was about to meet the man I would marry. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

In 1978 I joined a non-collegiate sorority called Tau Omicron Phi. It was a national organization and San Diego was the Delta Chapter. It was for daughters of military officers. We did philanthropic work, such as volunteering in the psych and orthopedic wards of San Diego Naval Hospital, and also social events for bachelor officers. I think it was a way for young women who had moved frequently to be able to find community in new areas, although members had to be 18. I loved being part of this organization and made great friends. I also like that our social events were pretty popular and there would normally be at least twice as many men as there were women.

I was dating a man namedAlan and had a big crush on him. He offered to pick me up and take me to our Halloween dance. Since I had to be at the North Island Officer’s Club early to prepare for the dance, I said I would meet him there.

I was really excited about this party. I’d rented a Scarlett O’Hara dress with full hoop skirt, parasol and bonnet. At the dance I welcomed Alan, but he was very cold toward me. Since he hadn’t brought me, I wasn’t his date and he was going to dance with other girls. I was really surprised at this, but more surprised that I wasn’t very upset about it. It didn’t work out so well for him because all the sorority girls knew that we had been dating and no one would dance with him. Later, I heard he’d still been seeing a girlfriend in his hometown of Santa Ana. He told me the reason he was going home so often was to see his parents.

I was enjoying the dance and I felt kind of magical in my costume. My friend Barbara and I had a signal – if one of us wanted the other to come to our aid, we would tug on an ear lobe. Not very original, since that was Carol Burnett’s signature gesture, but it worked for us. I finished dancing with a guy and I saw Barbara tugging away across the room. She had five guys around her, just introducing themselves and talking and she felt a bit intimidated. When I came over, she introduced them and I started talking to a nice-looking guy with black hair and a sweet smile. I thought he said his name was Phil Harmonica.

Phil seemed like such a nice guy, especially after Alan had been so odd. We danced a couple of dances and then we went out on a patio to cool off and watch the ocean for awhile. We talked about all the usual stuff when you’re getting to know someone. Then he asked me for dinner the following Friday and I said yes. At the end of the evening, we walked to my car and I gave him a quick hug – because that’s what I do. He later told me how much that meant to him.

Phil says he went back to his room in the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters and told his suite-mate that he met the girl he was going to marry.

Fast-forward to the Friday of our dinner date. Phil arrived at my parent’s house to pick up his date. He saw my mom in the front garden, watering the roses. Mom and I looked alike and all Phil could think was, “Is this who I asked out on a date?” He figured he would go to dinner and then make his excuses. He wasn’t about to back out on his commitment. My mom greeted him and said, “Oh, you must be here for Holly.” He gave a big sigh of relief.

And that was the beginning of my love for Phil Lamonica.


Memoir Monday: Randy Pausch, The Lessons He Left Behind

The 7 Things that Matter Most …

Katja Heinemann / Aurora Select / Courtesy of Parade Magazine

I decided to use my Labor Day holiday to clean out some old files and I came across an inspirational article I’d kept since 2008–about Randy Pausch, who gave a last lecture and wrote the book, The Last Lecture. At the age of 47, he was dying of pancreatic cancer. And he had a message that resounded with many folks.

Here are the seven things that matter most to Pausch:

  • Always Have Fun
  • Dream Big — Give yourself permission to dream. Fuel your kids’ dreams too. Once in a while, that might even mean letting them stay up past their bedtimes.
  • Ask for What You Want — More often than you’d suspect, the answer you’ll get is, “Sure.”
  • Dare To Take a Risk — Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted. And it can be the most valuable thing you have to offer.
  • Look for the Best In Everybody
  • Make Time for What Matters — Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think.
  • Let Kids Be Themselves

    Read a Time magazine article about Pausch here.


Memoir Monday: Allison Bechill, 7Memories Ghostwriter, Remembers the Deaf Orphans of Kenya

(Excerpt written using 7 Memories: Write Your Memoir in 28 Days)

I had always dreamed of visiting Africa, so when I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya with a group of educators through the University of San Diego I jumped at the chance. We took as few supplies for ourselves as possible and filled our bags with children’s books, medical supplies, toiletries, clothing, and school supplies for the young residents of the orphanage, known as Humble Hearts, where we would spend a month.

The original site of Humble Hearts, which also served as a school and church, had recently been destroyed in an act of eminent domain by the government—forcing a relocation from one Nairobi slum to another. We were there not only to help rebuild—we built several classrooms and a library as well as planting a vegetable garden—but also to work with the children and provide professional development opportunities for the teachers.

There were about eighty children that lived there—from babies to late teens—and most were deaf. In the slums of Kenya, deafness is seen as a curse from the gods. Families view their deaf children as a sign of shame, and more often than not they are hidden away at home and not let out to play or attend school with their hearing siblings and neighbors.

The founder of Humble Hearts grew up in those slums but made it to college, where her studies included learning Kenyan sign language, and trained to become a teacher. When she returned, she knocked on the door of every home rumored to contain a deaf child and offered to take them in—to care for and educate them as her own. Soon word spread, and the numbers of children grew to include orphans of the AIDS epidemic and the siblings of the deaf children. Today, Humble Hearts continues to take in children in need, even when resources are scarce and stretched.

Despite their sad beginnings, the children of Humble Hearts were filled with laughter, curiosity, and love. Kenya was as beautiful as I’d imagined, but nothing could have prepared me for the incredible generosity of spirit exhibited by its people. It truly was the trip of a lifetime and a dream come true.

(Written by memoir ghostwriter, Allison Bechill.)


Memoir Monday: 1979 Solar Eclipse–Where were you?

Source: NASA

Where were you on February 26, 1979–when last total eclipse occurred? Who were you with? What were your impressions?

The path of totality back then passed through Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana (where totality covered almost the entire state), and North Dakota, the Canadian provinces Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, the Northwest Territories of Canada (the portion that is now Nunavut), and Greenland.

This year’s media coverage of the event is widespread as hundreds of thousands flock to witness the eclipse firsthand. Perhaps the most nostaligic media coverage of the 1979 event is the ABC clip of a report by anchor, Frank Reynolds. Especially poignant are his last words:

“So that’s it, the last solar eclipse to be seen on this continent in this century. As I said, not until August 21, 2017, will another eclipse be visible from North America. That’s 38 years from now. May the shadow of the moon fall on a world at peace.”

The next solar eclipse will be April 2024. In the words of Frank Reynolds, “May the shadow of the moon fall on a world at peace.” PLEASE!




Memoir Monday: 97-Year-Old Shows Off Her New Wheels

(Excerpt written using 7 Memories: Partnering to Write a Memoir)

When I didn’t have a car anymore, I had a bicycle, but my balance got goofy and I couldn’t stay up on it. So I got a tricycle—and it’s wonderful. I love it. It’s great exercise and I used to ride it to the Plunge, but it closed. So now I ride it to the library every Tuesday to volunteer. I organize the newspapers and magazines there. The biggest obstacle to all of this is losing my independence. I used to go up to Long Beach and see my sister and my boys every two or three weeks. Now I don’t see my sons very much. Thank God for the telephone.

My biggest aim is not to be a burden and to keep my independence. I do know that it’s more rewarding to give then to receive. So when others help me I think that I’m doing them a favor. And it tickles me.

I feel so fortunate. I know that a bad experience can be a plus. “You can fall into a toilet hole and come up smelling like roses.” I think my folks used to say that. (BJ, 97 years old partnering with Trish.)