The Power of Memoir: Writing Exercise from Chapter One

List five family stories that piqued your interest as a child. Who told them, and where were you when you heard them? What especially drew you to the stories?

Once, in high school, my grandma told me a story so I wouldn’t worry she was going to go to hell.

From ages 12-17, I was in a small, evangelical, southern baptist church in southern California. I was a leader in the youth group, I was a member of a door-to-door team to witness to those without Christ, I attended wife training and I carried a full Bible every day to public school. The church mattered. God mattered. A lot.

As a member of such a belief system, and being open to all forms of my failure translating to harming those I loved, it made perfect sense that I harbored extreme responsibility to share Christ’s light. My family’s eternal home was depending on if I was diligent enough to share about Jesus at every possible opportunity.

My mom’s mom, whom I’d never seen eye-to-eye with as a teenager, allowed me to explain this burden to her one day. We were in her kitchen in Laguna Niguel. Grandma and I were alone. She was standing across the 3 foot counter from me, putting away dishes, I think? I was sitting on a bar chair, leaned over the counter. The small kitchen TV was playing Sailor Moon reruns with the volume turned down low.

I asked my Grandma “the key question”, which was a tactic from my evangelism training: “In your personal opinion, how does a person get to heaven?” My Grandma gave me a “works” answer, meaning she cited the idea that she was a good person and did good things. My heart sunk to my stomach. I knew my Grandma would go to hell when she died. I started to tear up. Grandma set down the dishtowel she was holding, and walked around the counter into the dining area. She sat down in a dining room chair, turning it away from the table so she was facing the TV. I spun in my bar chair and faced her. She took my hands in hers, and told me not to worry. She knew she was going to heaven when she died. My voice cracked as I told her that no, she wouldn’t, the Bible said she had to accept the Holy Spirit into her heart and-and she cut me off.

“Oh, I’ve done that! When I was much younger, around your age, before I met your grandpa. I’ll never forget it, Brittany, not as long as I live.” She went on to tell about sitting in the sunshine one afternoon in Washington state, and having a moment where she felt the Divine. She felt God reassuring her that He would watch over her, and take care of her, that He loved her and would always be with her.

It wasn’t the story itself that moved me, as touching as that sort of story was for the person I was at the time. What I remember most is the way she smiled, and closed her eyes softly when she described the sun. I remember the feeling I had when I saw her let her wrinkled eyelids rest on her thin cheeks. She looked like the sun from her story was somehow shining on her again, in the middle of her kitchen. She stayed like that, face lifted slightly to the warmth of her past, reliving a moment when she felt safe in the world. And I felt reassured. I even told my mother so that night while we drove home, Allison and Alex asleep in the back of the van. I told her that I wasn’t worried about Grandma anymore; that she was going to be just fine.

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