Sidebars provide a great way to bring in interesting asides that aren’t directly a part of your memoir, though they’re related. A writer friend who shared her memoir with me mentioned a game she remembered seeing her grandmother playing. It was called Bolita, and while it never became popular elsewhere, it had an intense following in many parts of Florida, especially among those of Cuban descent.
To me, that qualifies as something worthy of a sidebar. But then, I get a huge kick out of discovering things I never knew before. I suspect most people do, and this is a great way to help them do it!
Stop and think for a moment. Those of us who’ve reached middle age have seen an astonishing number of changes in our lives. Driven, relentlessly, by our collective hunger for more and better technology, the world around us has never changed so much so fast. It’s been estimated that of all the scientists who ever lived, better than 90% are still alive!
Yet, most of our children, and certainly our grandchildren, have very little awareness of what life was like before virtually everything became automated. Bringing them up to speed on where we came from, and how we got here, is both an obligation and an opportunity. Our memoirs certainly don’t have to be history lessons in themselves, but bringing relevant bits of history into sharp focus can make our stories more “real.”
I recall seeing a man delivering ice in huge blocks when I was a child. We were fortunate enough to have a refrigerator, but some of our neighbors didn’t. Hence, the ice man. And the ice box. And the little drip pan underneath. All of which seems like so much pioneer stuff to kids today. But it’s interesting.
And while we’re on the subject of refrigeration, another memoir-writing friend told me about the hospital where she was born. It was one of the first buildings in the city of Atlanta to have air conditioning. She later learned that movie theaters were in the vanguard of air conditioning adopters. No wonder even the bad movies were popular in the summertime! It’ll make a neat sidebar.
Another friend recently wrote about her first ever experience pumping gas for herself and lamented the lost days of “full service” filling stations where people not only put gas in your tank but offered to check your oil and clean your windshield, too. Suggest that to kids these days and they’ll look at you as if you’d just grown a second head. But, I can see where something like that might be appropriate as a sidebar.
The point of all this is that what we find interesting, and worth including in a memoir, is going to vary widely. One who grows up with a passion for bird watching will likely choose sidebar material that’s nothing at like what a woodworker or a coin collector might choose. (Note lovely rare bird pictured here: the greater adjutant, obviously named by someone with a wonderful sense of humor.)
Sidebars provide a great way to add something odd, unique or special to your narrative.