Good Times with Old Times: How to Write Your Memoirs
Katie Funk Wiebe. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1979. 179 pages.
At a time when the searching out of “roots” is an increasingly popular activity, Katie Funk Wiebe, well-known Mennonite author, provides us with the how-to-do-it manual. Good Times With Old Times is admittedly directed to older folk who are concerned that their memories and mature reflections on life not be lost. The book developed out of a Continuing Education class of “over 60’s” taught by Wiebe in 1975 in which she “pooled her knowledge of writing with her knowledge of living.” It is filled with advice on style and form, research methods, techniques, and tricks to help the memory give up its treasures. She illustrates freely from her own experience as she draws the novice writer along through the initial excitement and then the self-doubt and doldrums of the journey back through time.
But the book’s greatest aid to the aspirant will be the liberal sprinkling of personal memoirs which enhance each chapter. These vignettes from Wiebe’s own storehouse, glimpses of life through the eyes of a young Mennonite girl growing up in Blaine, Saskatchewan, entertain as well as trigger the memory. The last story, “You never gave me a name,” is particularly poignant in its description of Wiebe’s struggle to shed the shackles of an unshaped immigrant identity while accepting the real gift of her heritage.
One cannot disagree with Wiebe’s characteristically homespun observations on the nature of modern life. It is tragic that mobility keeps families apart and prevents grandparents from sharing their valuable store of wisdom and experience in a natural, casual way. Without undue sentimentality about the past, Wiebe expresses the fear that a nation which grows up without the security of “rootedness” cannot have much of a future.
Along with the necessary but tedious lists and charts, the reader is glad to find that more subtle snags are also dealt with. What if you don’t like what you find when you reach back into the past? Wiebe enlarges on the risky yet therapeutic nature of autobiographical writing.
Never does she mislead the reader into thinking that either the memory-journey or the writing will be easy. But it will be rewarding. To “unravel the muddle” of what has been the felt quality of life is a gift to give oneself, the family, and community. This is a book with a “double yolk,” and the reader who can keep with it past the top-heavy Foreward, Introduction, and Preface, will be rewarded.