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Class prompts storytelling for future generations

Created date

July 27th, 2010

Mary Buehler knew she had a rich history to share, but the task of putting pen to paper was daunting. My son encouraged me to write something down; he was so interested in our family stories, she says, but I didn t know where to start. So when she heard that a creative writing class was being offered at Highland Springs the community where she lives she jumped at the chance to get her memories in print. Most of the people in the class have a 60, 70, 80, even 90-year history, says Lee Sneath, an adjunct instructor at Brookhaven Community College who teaches the course. It can be overwhelming to know where to start, he continues. As a result, in the two-month class, we focused on writing one anecdote or episode at a time.

Outline of a lifetime

The format of the class was simple. Each week, Sneath provided writing tips and gave students a single assignment for the next session. Most of the ensuing class time was devoted to sharing the stories that had emerged from the previous class. One week, Sneath asked his students to write about a picture they wanted to share. My contribution was a picture of my first airplane ride back in 1939, recalls Buehler. I was in high school. My boyfriend took me to the Kansas City airport and we went up in a one-motor, open cockpit airplane. We were charged three dollars apiece. It was a very noisy, windy ride over the greater Kansas City area, but it was so worth it. It was a highlight of that time in my life.

Bringing history forward

Stories inspired by the course ranged from the lighthearted to the serious. Nearly everyone in the class has lived through a life-changing event the Depression, World War II and they all have stories to tell, says Sneath. One of the course s main objectives is to encourage communication, to share these stories before they are lost. Ivan Loffler, who lives a few miles fromHighland Springs, signed up for the class when he heard that it was available to priority list members (those who have put down a refundable deposit to reserve their spot in line for an apartment home) as well as residents. He titled one of his assignments How I outsmarted Hitler and Stalin. A native of Czechoslovakia, Loffler and his mother were sent to a concentration camp during World War II. Loffler s mother was able to smuggle him through relatives to a farm in western Slovakia. A year later, his mother escaped when her work transport train was attacked in Poland. She walked 800 miles over six months to come find me, says Loffler. He skirted communism a second time in 1968, when Russia invaded Czechoslovakia, by emigrating to Toronto with his wife and two sons.

Overcoming obstacles

One class member had to overcome a disdain for writing that dated back several decades. I never thought I could write, says Fran MacMannis, a retired dental assistant who lives atHighland Springs. I always hated writing compositions in high school, and it was worse to have to read them out loud. This writing class has brought out a lot in me. It s inspired me to write about what I know. One of MacMannis stories intrigued her fellow writers. My great-grandfather, Kingman Fogg Page, was very good friends with President Lincoln, says MacMannis. Family history has it that Lincoln was in my great-grandfather s box at Ford s Theatre on the night he was shot. Supposedly, my great-grandmother was sick that evening, and my great-grandfather asked the President if he would like to use their box. MacMannis recollections, along with those from fellow class members, culminated in a book signing. The newly minted authors invited family members and friends to celebrate the stories they had unearthed over the course of the class. This is their coming-out party, says Sneath. It s great to see these memories passed down through the generations.