Writing our stories – in the time of COVID.
Liz Pearl @ PK Press
Almost a decade ago, I crossed paths with a wonderful woman – Bonnie Lawrence Shear. Bonnie and her adopted daughter Beth, co-authored a poignant narrative about the discovery of Beth’s biological mother, that had taken place many years prior. I found their co-authored narrative to be compelling, inspiring, heartwarming and heartbreaking – like Oprah-live material. Their deeply personal bittersweet story was co-written with integrity, authenticity, love and a touch of humour; my favourite genre written in my preferred style.
That captivating story was featured in Living Legacies – A Collection of Inspiring Personal Narratives by Canadian Jewish Women – Volume VI (Liz Pearl, Editor @ PK Press) several years ago; and I have kept in touch, to some extent (mostly on social media), with all three of these dynamic Canadian Jewish women (Beth, her biological mother – Deborah, and her adoptive mother – Bonnie). In fact, Living Legacies – Volume V includes an intriguing personal narrative written by L. Deborah Sword titled: Lessons from the Conflict between My Heart and My Spirit. In yet another volume of Living Legacies, L. Deborah Sword and Beth Lawrence co-authored a touching narrative titled: The ebb and flow of Jewish Identity.
I am delighted to include these women and so many others in the Sisterhood of Living Legacies. The journey from one volume to the next has been serendipitous, and now the project is in mid-pivot, transitioning to new platforms.
After completing the publication that included Bonnie’s narrative, I thought I knew Bonnie relatively well, after all, her featured story was a pretty telling tale. I was wrong. Sometime later, Bonnie approached me with her robust file of personal stories, mostly about her family-of-origin, and growing-up in Foresthill in the 1940s and 50s. I quickly read through her anecdotes, descriptions and vignettes, (including family lore, secrets, and yes, some drama) and I was of course, hooked. Interesting characters, and universal experiences described from Bonnie’s very personal perspective in her distinct storytelling style.
For example, snippets about family winter vacations in Florida, recounting her grandparents’ stories of immigration, and childhood nostalgia re attending the annual Toronto Christmas Day Parade.
On the occasion of her 75th birthday (in 2016) Bonnie published a beautiful book containing more than twenty-five personal narratives, selected family photos and a collection of favourite family and friends’ traditional recipes. The one-of-a-kind memoir book is titled Dinner on Dunvegan – Memories and Recipes, and the cover of the book features a coloured photograph of the fine china dinnerware used in the formal dining-room on Dunvegan, back in the day. This classic image tells us so much about the bygone era and the nature of Bonnie’s early years.
The unique book is a meaningful keepsake for Bonnie and her entire extended network of family, friends and community members. No doubt, the creative process was a labour of love. The bustling book launch was a huge success; Bonnie was beaming, surrounded by Mel, her doting husband, proud children and step-children, adoring grandchildren and step-grandchildren, extended family, friends and more friends. And, all of the books were sold! With an additional shipment on order.
Bonnie has donated a portion of the revenue from the sales of the books to Baycrest Foundation – Centre for Geriatric Care, a longstanding leading Toronto Institution that has for decades, been near to Bonnie’s heart.
Throughout the process, I worked on the sidelines, coaching, guiding and supporting Bonnie as she composed the stories, and together with Roxana Parvu, her talented graphic designer we formed the content and format of the book. And along the way, I got to know Bonnie and her life story well indeed. The diverse stories span five generations, including her heritage and her incredible legacy. For me, that link is the most interesting piece. Bonnie and I both cherish traditions and wisdom gleaned from sharing family stories from generation to generation.
It was a joy acquiring a firsthand view of her relationships, milestones, highlights and lowlights. In time, I could see Bonnie’s world through her eyes. Her vast passion for family, food, travel, Israel, the arts, lifelong learning, her heritage and Judaism. As well, her humour, boundless energy, love of life, and many inspiring life choices. So much to write about.
Just in time for COVID 2020 — engaged in our work-from-home routines, Bonnie contacted me again. Five years had passed since the release of her first book and she was well on her way to drafting a new collection of insightful stories; this time with emphasis on her adult years, including, raising children, lots of fascinating travel, Jewish community initiatives, and of course more quirky characters. Of course, I was delighted to continue our partnership.
Bonnie’s second book is titled “Things I Forgot to Tell You” and is scheduled to be published to honour her eightieth birthday in February 2021. For Bonnie, 2020 has been a year of uncertainty, reflection, and lots of time for writing.
A milestone birthday is a terrific opportunity to indulge in writing your personal narrative, a collection of mini-memoir stories or perhaps your family story. The creative process is a gift to yourself and the published book will absolutely be treasured.
Sample stories from Bonnie’s second book include “Hineini” – a soul-searching reflection on identity and presence; “Ode to Schmaltz” – the connection between food, family and our memories; and “Oh the Places” – the wonder of travel. Also, Bonnie reveals a mixed-media artistic project she has directed at Baycrest — to be launched in 2021. And more classic mini-memoir stories that will resonate with many of us.
Our journey together has been creative, productive and rewarding. Bonnie and I share family stories, old and new, some gossip, and we enjoy keeping each other up-to-date. The collaborative process yields great dividends.
Actually, during these past few months, many of us have hunkered down at our computers or notepads and done some serious reflection, introspection and writing. That is certainly one among a variety of possible silver-linings in the realm of creativity that have emerged in the time of COVID. Truly, its a great time to get started on writing those family stories that have been percolating for decades.
Everyone Has a Story. What’s Yours? Share Your Story—Leave a Legacy.