Debbie LaChusa

Writing Memoir: Learning to Show and Tell

Hope relaxing in the back seat of my car, ready for our cross country road trip

After completing a writing lesson on the topic of Show and Tell, I realized it’s probably the one skill I most need to master in my quest to become a memoirist. My journalism education taught me to report the facts. As a nonfiction writer, I focused on writing clear and concise descriptive prose.

Painting a picture for readers, helping them visualize and step into scenes, and evoking emotion is new territory for me. So, at my instructor’s urging, I took a scene from my life that I previously would have described in just a few sentences—and one I know I’ve written about before, just not in this way—and applied the Show and Tell technique.

Leaving is the result of this exercise. I know I still have a ways to go, but I feel like it’s a good start. It was also a lot more fun to write!

By the way, I could probably keep editing this piece forever, but in the spirit of tackling this merely as a lesson and knowing it will never be perfect at this stage in my memoir writing career—or maybe ever!—I made the decision to stop at 64 revisions (and that’s after spending two days writing and editing it in Pages before working on it here on the blog!) That may sound crazy, but I’m learning this style of writing requires much more editing and rewriting than journalism or nonfiction. The editing is what brings the piece to life. I hope you enjoy it! 🙂


Leaving

As I drive away from Wintercreek Place—my home for the last 24 years—Hope, my six-year-old golden retriever is settled comfortably in her dog bed in the back seat. My eyes glance into the rear-view mirror. I watch the only life I’ve ever known fade into the distance. On this bright sunny June morning, my husband Louie and I are beginning a new chapter. He’s driving behind me with Faith—our four-year-old golden retriever—who’s peering over his shoulder as she always does, like a literal back seat driver. We’re traveling 2,300 miles, separately yet together, to our new home on the other side of the country.

Today we will drive from San Diego to Flagstaff, Arizona.

It’s our longest leg of the 10-day road trip. I settle in for the eight-hour journey with my copilot snoozing quietly in the back seat. As I drive the streets I’ve traversed so many times that my car seems to know the way, I pass Food4Less, a store I never liked, but frequented because it was convenient.

Across the street are the ball fields, their red dirt and grass a backdrop for some of my fondest family memories. Those fields serving as the center of our community, uniting families, birthing lifelong friendships, and providing daily lessons in teamwork, winning, and losing, for so many kids including my own. Preparing them for life in ways school can’t, and turning them into responsible young adults ready to leave the nest and tackle the world. 

As I exit the small suburban community I’ve lived in and loved since my kids were tots, I punch the satellite radio buttons in search of a soundtrack for this unprecedented trip. I never planned to drive across the country. Heck, I never planned to leave San Diego. But here I am, doing both. I land on the Yacht Rock station playing songs I remember from high school.

The nostalgic music takes me back to when Louie and I met.

It was the summer of 1977. The sun was hot and the days were long. We met at the beach and before we knew it we were spending most of our days together, our toes in the sand as we soaked up the warm Southern California sun. We fell in love to the same songs I now hear as I drive. I was 15 years old, he was 18.

Our young love grew into a life—41 years together so far—and two kids, a son and a daughter. They’ve already moved away, our daughter compliments of a college softball scholarship 11 years ago, and our son, leaving just two weeks ago, our impending move prompting him to finally close the gap on his long-distance romance of eight years.

We’ll all be gone now, each of us trading in suburbia for a more rural lifestyle.

I ponder how and why this came to be, considering both our families have lived in San Diego their entire lives. Our little family is breaking this tradition, with our daughter now living in Ohio, not far from where she went to grad school, and our son putting down roots on a small island off the coast of Washington state, with his girlfriend and her family.

As for us, we’re off to North Carolina, to begin our retirement in a small mountain town that felt like home the moment we set foot on its quaint, historic Main Street, hiked its lush, waterfall-laden trails, and experienced the majesty of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.

As I listen to the music of days gone by, I realize it’s the perfect soundtrack for this journey. Ambrosia, Toto, Steely Dan… and now Christopher Cross serenading me as I embark on this new adventure… “Sailing. Takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be. Just a dream and the wind to carry me…”

I breathe in deeply, embracing the resonance.

About 20 minutes into the drive I find myself heading East on the Interstate, traveling up the grade into Alpine. As I approach the Viejas Indian Reservation—its casino looming large just off the freeway—I reflect on all the times I drove this stretch of highway taking the kids to the dentist. Free dental was one of the few perks we received from Louie’s lineage as a Native American. 

A few miles further, as the hills begin turning brown and rocky, and buildings become sparse, I see the towering white wind turbines spinning slowly in the soft summer breeze, magically turning air into electricity. Suddenly, an overwhelming sadness washes over me. I’m really leaving. Doubts begin to bubble up. I find myself questioning our decision to move. To leave everyone behind. Family, friends, the only city I’ve ever called home.

But mostly, I think about my parents. They always seemed invincible. Even now, in their eighties, they’re better off than most of the 80-year-olds I see on my weekly pet therapy visits. They’re living in the home they’ve owned for 50 years—my childhood home—and while dad seems to be aging faster than mom, I remind myself they’re doing okay. Still, I find myself questioning the decision to leave at this potentially fragile time. 

Then I think of my own daughter, who moved across the country at age 17.

Our relationship blossomed despite the distance. I tell myself it’s okay to leave my parents. I’ve lived near them my entire life. I’m 56 years old and it’s time for me to follow my dreams. Besides, my brother and sister are there. It’s not like mom and dad have no one to care for them should the need arise. I remind myself we can talk by phone, or better yet, FaceTime. But my reassurance is quickly overshadowed by nagging questions.

Am I being selfish? Should I wait until after they’re gone? Am I a bad daughter for leaving them in their twilight years? What if something happens and I’m not there? The questions flood in, drowning me in waves of doubt, and eventually flowing out of my eyes and dripping down my cheeks. 

Through the tears, I gaze into the rear view mirror and see Hope dozing in the backseat, oblivious to the emotional basket case behind the wheel in front of her.

I wipe my eyes, inhale a long slow deep breath, and remind myself I didn’t make this decision lightly. I reach deep down into my gut trying to find the calling that’s been pulling me toward North Carolina. I know it’s there. It started whispering in my ear 18 months ago and it never let up. My siblings urged me to go. They understood our need to slow down and that this move is making early retirement possible. Even mom and dad gave us their blessing, with mom quipping, “it’s time for the baby bird to leave the nest.”

Hmmmm, I’m a 56-year-old baby bird. I chuckle at the thought.

Then I remind myself, I’m not leaving.

It’s never been about leaving. It’s always been about going toward the life that’s beckoning me. Honoring the strong sense of knowing that’s been tugging at my heart for nearly two years. Making this move is about following the inspired voice inside my head. The voice that always seems to know what’s right for me. The voice that sometimes scares me but never lets me down. Listening to that voice is how I live my life.

I can’t stop now.

So I keep driving.

4 thoughts on “Writing Memoir: Learning to Show and Tell”

  1. Debbie,
    When I was reading this, I felt like I was right there with you.
    Thank you for sharing. I can’t wait to read more.
    Meme

  2. You captured that moment in life so well! That moment where you take the fork in the road . . . I felt like I was there with you.

    1. Thanks Sheryl. It was a very interesting experience to go back to that moment in time four years ago and revisit what came up for me while I was driving. I was surprised how much of it came flooding back and how much of my life it brought up, beyond just the driving part of the experience.

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