Me and My Siblings

I wrote a little about my sisters, Krissie and Randi, in my last two blogs, Buttercup Hill and Beneath the Arc of a Double Rainbow, but I have two brothers, as well: Stephen and Michael John. In the photo below we are all sitting on our front steps in Riverdale, New York. Judging from our clothing, it’s winter.


(Front center) Stephen. (From top left) Michael John, Lynn, Randi, Krissie.
The photo was taken by our father, Bob Burlingham.

Buttercup Hill

I must be thinking of Buttercup Hill because fall is shutting down to make way for winter.

One of five children, I used to run up the long hill in Riverdale, New York where we lived and climb over the fence to see if the buttercups had decided it was warm enough to open up yet. If they did, the brown hill would suddenly be brush painted in a bright lustrous yellow. I would lie down turning my head left and right to be eye level with the blossoms. If I were there with one of my sisters, we would play the buttercup game.

These scenarios went something like this:

“Lean your head way back,” my second oldest sister, Randi, commanded plucking a few flowers to wave them just under my chin.”

“You’re not buttery,” she proclaimed when my chin did not reflect yellow.

“I am, too. I am very buttery.”

“Not!”

“Am!”

“Your turn,” Randi said.

I copied her gesture, amazed to see her chin was yellow.

I was torn about telling her the truth.

“I think I do see a little yellow on your chin,” I admitted.

“See, I am buttery!” she gloated.

I wish I had lied.

Now, up on Buttercup Hill with my oldest sister, Krissie, things were different.

Two Ferdinands, we sat down in the yellow blossoms together and– for a suspended moment in time–we tried to smell the spring in the flowers.

“Let’s just pretend they do smell,” said Krissie.

“They look like they should smell very sweet.” I said.

“I agree,” said my oldest sister. “We smell the sweet of spring.”

We joined pinkies. “Sweet,” we said is unison enjoying sisterhood and the profusion of yellow.

Oh, the sweetness of sisterhood on Buttercup Hill!

Memoir Writing

Memoirs are a way of leaving a legacy behind. I always thought you had to be old, with a lifetime story to tell, but young people write them, especially famous young people, and sometimes these young people’s memoirs are very good.

Not expecting much from this season’s Open by Andre Agassi, I bought it for Paul–who loves tennis, and Andre Agassi–but also read it myself. Andre will be forty in April. It took him two years to write the book, so I consider late thirties young for memoir writing. Anyway, to my surprise, Open turned out to be a well-written book, with an authentic voice that rings true throughout the 385 pages. With only an eighth grade education that if it shone anywhere did so in English, but with expert help that Andre acknowledges, Open conveys a story that actually seems like it encompasses at least one lifetime.

We memoir writers–whatever our age–want desperately for our experiences to form a narrative, that drives a story worthy of being heard. Some of my beta readers have said, “Memoirs that get published are the memoirs of famous people; people want to know about their backgrounds and how they developed their careers. For the little people, it’s much harder to get a story out there. They have to ask the question, who would want to read it? What interest would their story hold for the general public?”

So who would want to read my story? Well, women crave stories about the complex relationships within their families. Some want to know about personal healing, and how to actualize themselves under difficult circumstances. Many women are interested in the meaning of jewels. As they read about the meaning of my jewels, they are thinking about the meaning of theirs. And, … and then my upbringing was unusual. The household names of Tiffany and Freud are part of my legacy. I have been affected by these legacies. People are interested in personal stories that have to do with those names. “And men,” I can hear my beta readers coaching me: “Don’t forget men.” Oh yes, I think, that’s true, women want to hear about personal experiences with men: why this relationship didn’t work, and that one did. They learn something. I know I do, especially when those experiences are written about convincingly and well. It’s like what I was saying about jewels, my stories make people think of their stories, or the other way around. Readers become privy to my secrets, while they think of theirs.

The Meaning of Jewels in My Memoir, Jewels That Speak

In my blog, Revision X6?, I said I would talk a little about the meaning of jewels in my memoir. If I try to remember when I first began to make attachment to stones, it probably came from observing the mysterious luminous blue luster of my mother’s Georg Jensen moonstone ring from the time I was born.

My hands are short, my fingers a bit stubby, the kind you want to hide behind your back if someone stares at them too hard. My mother’s hands were elegant, her fingers long; they deserved to be looked at. As a very young child, when I was in close proximity to her, I liked to lie with my head on a pillow, my feet up in the air, my eyes on Mom, and play with her hands. The only ring she wore in those days was the moonstone, and like her hands, it was beautiful.

When I thought of different ways I could go about telling my story, I suddenly hit on the idea of revealing parts of my heritage through the personal and mystical meaning of jewels. That I care about jewel stones is something that anyone who knows me really well can concur. If I don’t ever wear a jewel stone I’ve been given, there is a definite reason for it. Jewels connect me to my past, my present, and future. They connect me to my father, my mother, my grandmothers, my famous great-grandfather (Louis Comfort Tiffany), and my even more famous great-great-grandfather (Charles Lewis Tiffany, the Tiffany of Tiffany and Co). Jewels remind me of the self I was in the past, and connect me to who I am today. Jewels gather meaning as time goes on.