Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
For Your Journal: Writing Prompt

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Do you keep a journal – or wish you could get one started? Literary Mama wants to help. Several times a month, we'll post a writing prompt. Open a notebook and write for 10 minutes. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation – just write. Then let the writing simmer and your mind wander for awhile.

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I have a great aunt who is exactly one month away from her 100th birthday. My mother’s father’s sister has always been on the periphery of my life, but it has only been in the past two years that I have truly begun to know my Aunt Jeannette.

As can happen, when I had a baby something new stirred in me. I began to wonder what I would tell him about where our people came from. My ancestry is something I knew so incredibly little about, and I had honestly never cared too much to ask. But now, as I watched my baby turn into a little boy, I wanted to know in detail, who exactly were our people?

I decided I had to find out, and asking the oldest person in my family was the best place to start.

When my four-year-old son and I arrived at Aunt Jeannette’s door after the two-day road trip, she welcomed us in to her home, and began immediately telling stories. Stories about growing up with two older brothers, one of whom was my grandfather, with whom she did not always see eye to eye. Stories about the German dinners, cooked by her mother, who I am named after, and her father, a loving but driven businessman. Stories about her grandparents and the farms they worked, and the faraway lands they came from, all of which I never even dreamed about. She spoke, I listened (and saved her words with a digital recorder), and my son danced around the room making us laugh. I began to see my great aunt more clearly, and a world of richness and understanding about who I am opened in front of me. I started to know what to tell my son about our people.

But he already understands. Weeks after our trip to visit Aunt Jeannette, my son turned to me at breakfast and said “I’m so lucky. Because I have an aunt who is almost one hundred.” Yes, indeed, we are lucky.

In your journal today, write a story about your oldest living relative. Write about times spent together, and how you feel about those experiences. Write about time you wish you could spend together. Is there more you want to know about this person? Write a letter and ask.


Amanda Jaros is a freelance writer and blogger, focusing on nature and science stories. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and magazines including Terrain.org, Newfound, Life in the Finger Lakes Magazine, Highlights for Children, and Cargo Literary. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Chatham University.


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Who Can Say? "Who can say?" my aunt has jotted beneath the portrait of a boy— the white bowed armband and the gilded bible he clasps to his chest signaling his first communion— "Might be your father." In this one, a woman with a pale complexion strikes a formidable pose beside a dark draped curtain, but cannot seem to decide where to place her hands, as my aunt writes "She’s on my father’s side of the family, but can’t say who she is." About this beach scene, composed of a dozen half-submerged figures in wool suits and knit caps squinting into the sun, she says, "I see only four who I recognize, Mom, Dad, my brother, and me." Or this spring occasion— where every woman dons a corsage, such an array of hats and budding branches it could be Mother’s Day or Easter— "Only recognize my cousin here." Who are they, then, the ones that stand shoulder to shoulder with my kin? Why have we kept these images of men and women who perhaps, only as a courtesy, delivered their cartes-de-visites, left to permanently reside within our albums, our company? We knew them well once, it seems in some, like this one, where my aunt sits as a girl on the lap of a young woman who embraces her with great affection— one arm wrapped around my aunt’s slight waist, as the other hand pats her bare knee, their feet swinging freely beneath them, though my aunt notes apologetically, "I don’t know who is holding me." It takes me a long while to reconcile that we will never know now. My maternal and paternal grandparents, my mother and father are gone; only my aunt and uncle remain, but when I witness their struggle to place or label these blurs of memory, I cease my inquiries, and try to allow our reflections simply to bind and inspire us to stand before the query of our own lens, show future generations the pose of the past, leave it to them to distinguish one relative from another, bestow upon us our names.
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