When she was 80, “Babe” (her given name is Phoebe; readers never learn her last name) began work on her memoir. She wanted to write it, Babe says, for her sons “who don’t know what my life was like or who is related to them.” She accomplishes her goal in My Life.
In this slim volume, Babe talks about growing up poor in the Depression, about her parents, siblings, children and other family members. (Her three sons’ birth dates are there; the years they were born are not.) Chapters are generally a page or two, and cover such day-in-the-life topics as Italian traditions, the vendors from her childhood in Bristol, R.I., and walking to school. She also writes about her husband, Mike, her travels and growing old. These are the type of topics people have questions about in their later years and say, “I wish Grandma was here. She’d know.” With this book, Babe is making sure her sons know.
Certainly, this is not a perfectly crafted work. Babe is prone to random capitalizations (a “Coal stove,” a “wire Company,” going to a “Park”) and misuses words (a merchant installs a “jute box”; a porch is a “God sent”). She also could use a few more periods (“They adopted a first child [sic] his name was David [sic] he was a baby.”).
In most books, such lapses would distract or even annoy readers. But in My Life, Babe is reminiscing, not providing a precise, polished historical record. It’s like sitting at the kitchen table with Grandma as she talks about her life, her family, her friends. Exact details are not necessary in those conversations, and her family will forgive any issues with writing mechanics. Memories and impressions suffice. And that idea holds true throughout My Life.
My Life will have limited appeal for general readers. But for Babe’s family, it’s a precious document.
Also available as an ebook.