At 80 years old, Mom Giordano says she has been writing all her life. But when asked why she does it and what value she places on it, a look of uncertainty flashes across her face. Then, she tells this story:
"When I was a girl my foster mother told me I had to write to my grandfather. I didn't know the man. I said, 'He's an old man. I don't know him. What am I going to write to him?'"
But she found something to say in those childhood letters. She didn't know at the time that they would be just the beginning, but she is still writing.
"I'm just a weird old lady who likes to tell stories," she says. However, in the early 1960s when she began writing a small column for a local newspaper relating the news on and around her homestead, people seemed to enjoy hearing things like, "It must be spring because Mrs. Nelson's kittens are here." Their enjoyment gave her encouragement.
Over the years she has practiced many types of writing. She has a blue folder that bulges with poems, essays and short stories, all about her life. She has never given thought to whether they would be published or whether she would ever make money from them.
"In 1959," she says, "back on the homestead I'd send letters back home to friends in Massachusetts. I found out one man was having them published in the local newspaper."
Mom says it seemed that people in the Lower 48 wanted to hear what life was like in the wilderness of Alaska. Maybe because it was so new and different from their own way of life. But she stopped writing to the man after she found he was making money off her stories. She was happy to hear that people enjoyed them, but she felt betrayed that a friend could "use" her so without telling her.
Mom's daughter, Mary Halpin, says Mom's letters were like vignettes of early life in Alaska, snapshots of pioneer life.
|Memories By Mom: Tales of an Alaskan Homestead
Now that Mom and Mary have published a book together those snapshots have become little pieces of history. Their book, Memories By Mom: Tales of an Alaskan Homestead
, is a collection of short stories about the early days on their 160-acre homestead in Willow, Alaska, about 70 road miles north of Anchorage. The book was the third one published by Bear Paw Publishing in Houston, Alaska.
Although Mom has been writing for years, the stories for the book are the first ones Mary has written. She says it was pretty easy, partly because she got some good tips from Mom.
"Mom taught me to write like you're talking to someone; like you're telling a story," Mary says, "and it works."
Story telling often pops up at Giordano family gatherings. It's not a tradition per se, says Mary, but one memory triggers another and before you know it the entire house is filled with laughter.
"It's great fun," Mary says.
Mom and Mary have often told stories together, at times adding pieces to one another's fragmented memories, but they do not write together.
"She writes on her old typewriter at one end of the house and I write on my computer at the other end," Mary says.
Afterward they get together in the kitchen of the ranch-style home where Mary has lived with Mom and her father Dan ever since her husband died. They find that at times they have written about the same things, and some of their lines are almost identical; some are even word for word.
"Sometimes when I read them, I can't tell which ones were Mary's and which ones were mine," Mom says, as she gets up and walks toward a back bedroom.
A few minutes later she comes back with the fat blue folder in her hand. She flips through pages and pages of thin translucent typing paper; pulls out a piece and begins to read. It's a poem about her life from birth to age 60 or so, remarkably short, condensed.
"I have a few more years to put in now that I'm 80," Mom says.
There's no doubt she will add those two decades into her poem, and possibly a couple more. She has also started work on a new book that will chronicle her entire Alaska experience, from arriving in the state to her current life as an artist, and all the people she has met in between.
"If I live long enough I might get it finished," she says.