Sharing Stories

By Mary Anne Hajer


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It’s just after 12:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, and at the Minoru Place Activity Centre in Richmond, members of the Minoru Amateur Writers’ Group begin to drift into a large room at the end of the hall.

Although all are 55 years of age or older (the one criteria for membership at the Minoru Place Activity Centre), there is a range of 35 years or more between the youngest members of this group and the oldest - a gap of close to two generations. The age difference is irrelevant, however, because these people share a common interest - a desire to put down on paper their stories, poems, essays or memoirs and to share them with an eager audience.

On this day, Pearl Garland is the first to read. She is a prolific poet, and her offering is a new poem entitled Day Dreaming.

“Time passes. The clock on the wall tells me so.

Idle moments for wishful thinking

As the clock hands move slow.”

When she is finished, the others applaud and murmur their appreciation.

Kay Berry is next. At 95, Kay is the only founding member of the writers’ group who still attends meetings. For years, she acted as co-ordinator, and still has new material to contribute most weeks. Today, she reads a story about her grandmother’s Bible.

“When I was 21, my grandmother gave me her most prized possession, her Bible, as a birthday present,” she begins. She goes on to relate her memories of her grandmother, who could neither read nor write. When she finishes, others speak of their grandparents, long gone and seldom remembered, but brought to mind by Kay’s story.

When it is Denny Lalonde’s turn, he lightens the mood by reading a few jokes he found on the Internet. He then goes on to read another chapter of his memoirs describing his childhood in England during the Second World War. This one tells about the local milkman who, with his horse, faithfully continued to deliver milk to his customers between bombing raids.

By 2:45, everyone has had a chance to read.

“It’s been a great meeting, so interesting,” someone says. The others agree, already anticipating next week’s gathering.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Minoru Amateur Writers’ Group, or Richmond Literary Club, as it was first known. The group recently adopted its current name in an attempt to reassure prospective members who might feel intimidated at the thought of joining a group of professional writers. While some do write for commercial publication, most do so for their own satisfaction. The majority is engaged in chronicling their own and their families’ life stories, hoping to preserve their personal histories for succeeding generations.

Often, new members are apprehensive the first time they read one of their compositions aloud to the group. They quickly gain confidence, however, because the group doesn’t critique each other’s work unless asked to do so.

Linda Hilford recalls her experiences with another writing group.

“They were doing critiques on the writing every week. I was finding that stressful,” she says. “I didn’t enjoy it.”

The non-judgmental attitude of the Minoru Amateur Writers’ Group gave her the confidence to continue writing, and she has since had several articles published in a small-town newspaper in Saskatchewan.

Pat Parent’s mind was teeming with story ideas, but she wondered if her sketchy educational background had equipped her with the literary skills she needed to write them down. With encouragement, she submitted one of her stories to a literary contest and won a prize! Her story was printed in the magazine, *Canadian Stories*, making Pat a published author.

Genevieve Massot, a long-time member, was born and grew up in France.

“To begin with I was shy because English is not my first language,” she says. “I like it that we do not critique each other. We are respectful of each other.”

Members write about anything that interests them: childhoods on farms and cities in Canada and other countries, hobbies and interests, families and pets.

They write about times of joy and sorrow, about past triumphs and setbacks and dreams for the future, and they write about friendships, love affairs and quarrels, family rifts and reconciliations. It’s no wonder they come to know each other so well.

Neil McKinnon, author of *Tuckahoe Slidebottle* and finalist for both the 2007 Stephen Leacock Humour Award and the 2007 Alberta Book Award, says, “As a writer, I’m primarily interested in stories - and seniors have more stories to tell than anybody. Where else can you hear about a family who lived in a cave during the Depression or a boy riding his bike around England during the Blitz? This is all great grist for a writer’s mill. I’ll never in 10 lifetimes be able to use all the ideas that the stories here generate.”

Members also enjoy exchanging descriptions of festivals and holidays as celebrated in their particular culture or religion. Lois Carson Boyce says, “When I was growing up [in Ontario] there were groups of people my family didn’t have anything to do with, and I’m enjoying learning about them now and have come to realize what worthwhile people they are.”

Many feel that belonging to a writers’ group is what keeps them writing.

“I like a structured life and knowing there is a meeting coming up motivates me to write something,” says Muriel Clendenning.

Peter Ludlow couldn’t forget his sojourn in Samoa in the ‘80s. He wanted to write stories about his experience there, but wasn’t sure how to start. He took a short course on writing, but didn’t find it helpful.

“Then I started coming here [to the meetings at the MPAC],” he says. “The little bit of pressure to write a story each week kept me writing and that’s really why I kept coming.”

Alice Hawkins was searching for a way to cope with a recent tragedy. “I have kept a journal all my life,” she says, “so when I realized that there was a writers’ group meeting at the Minoru Place Activity Centre, I decided to attend, hoping it would help me to develop a new interest and new friends.”

Perhaps Jeanne Schotte summarizes best the reasons members come back week after week, year after year, when she says, “I just love hearing other people’s stories and I love the camaraderie here and how we all just seem to fit and get along together and enjoy being here. This is a very positive thing.”

Every year, the Minoru Amateur Writers’ Group publishes an anthology of their work entitled *Perceptions*. The 2005 edition contained 72 pages. The 2008 volume boasted 176 pages, evidence of the enthusiasm and commitment of the contributors. *Perceptions* can be found in the Richmond Public Library.

Membership in the Minoru Amateur Writers’ Group is not limited to residents of Richmond. Newcomers are welcome to drop in 12:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. every Tuesday at the Minoru Place Activity Centre, 7660 Minoru Gate in Richmond.

For more information, call 604-275-3236.

 

OCTOBER 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER AND LOWER MAINLAND

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