Hi everyone –
Thanks SO much for stopping by my anniversary blog last week! It was great to hear from so many of you again!
This week’s story was inspired by having breakfast with my Grandparents on Saturday morning. My Grandfather has been a family historian for years, collecting family tree information going back generations!
He’s 87 now and wants to pass on some of his knowledge to all of us, and as I sat there learning about my great-grandfather’s father, I realized how even the most simple lives help to craft your family. It’s not the larger than life family members that make you who you are, but often it’s the love they leave behind that matters.
With that feeling in mind, a story idea popped in my head. What if every person wrote their own autobiography for future generations?
I hope you enjoy the story!
Thanks again for all your support! I love hearing from you!
Best-Selling Life – By Lisa Kessler
He arched his back, stretching his arms up toward the ceiling as he yawned. He’d been at the computer for hours. Time got away from him when he was writing, especially when the topic was so interesting.
Alec Forester was writing his mandated autobiography.
In an effort to stimulate the circulation to his legs, he walked the aisles staring up at the thousands of shelved titles. Bound books were a rarity these days. All the new publications were available by download in electronic format. No more trees were harmed for human entertainment.
At least not if you wanted to read.
His watery blue eyes scanned the book spines as he walked. He’d been the librarian here for over forty years. When he’d started a hand-held kindle e-reader was something only a relatively small portion of the population owned, but today more people had electronic readers than bound books. Bookshelves had become a place to display trinkets and keepsakes instead of books. Bound books were nearly extinct, more of a collector’s item than something to read.
But he still loved to look up at the spines and see titles. Some he recognized and a faint memory of adventures long gone would burst into his mind, while others tempted him to open their covers and lose himself in their story.
When Alec reached the autobiography wing, he clasped his gnarled fingers together behind his back and stepped inside. The shelves in this section reached up twelve feet high with brass runners along the top and bottom for the rolling ladder to slide down the lengths. He stared way up at the alphabetized authors. He was in the "F" section today. His eyes moved along the fifth shelf up from the floor.
He skimmed over autobiographies of politicians and star athletes who were long dead. A few of the names he recognized as bestsellers. Documentaries of incredible lives.
But that wasn’t what he was looking for.
Alec would be celebrating his seventieth birthday next week. He had one year from that date to complete his own autobiography. He’d already started of course. From grade school on up the teachers prepared the next generation to live a life worth documenting for future generations.
His ring finger on his left hand was missing the tip due to his ambition to live a best-selling life. That was the ultimate goal. Everyone would write their mandated autobiography, but only a select few would be noteworthy bestsellers.
After his sixty-fifth birthday, while entertaining an element of boredom one night, Alec had walked these same aisles, and stopped when a very narrow book caught his eye. The book binding was red, but the book itself couldn’t have been more than one hundred pages. He frowned and carefully slid the book from the shelf.
The Life and Love of Edward Ames. Alec opened the cover and flipped pages to find the copyright date. He smiled. This autobiography was written in 2010, the first year of the mandate for a written history of every life. So Edward hadn’t known his life would be documented. He probably lived a safe unremarkable life.
Out of curiosity, Alec flipped to the first page. Edward was born in Pasadena California on January 1, 1940. Apparently Edward’s father was a USC fan, and often pointed out to a young Edward that he was born just after the Trojan’s scored their final touchdown, winning the 26th Rose Bowl Game 14-0.
Before Alec realized it, he was turning the final page. He’d read Edward’s entire live story. Although Edward Ames never broke a Guinness record, or climbed Mt. Everest, or slept with a movie star, his life was still miraculous in its own way. Edward married his high school sweetheart and was still married to her as of the printing of the autobiography.
That was sixty-five years ago. Alec was just entering kindergarten when Edward Ames was writing his autobiography. Alec quickly shelved the book and went in search of other narrow volumes. Over the past few years since, he’d read over a thousand autobiographies of ordinary lives, and inside the covers he discovered something extraordinary.
In 2075, life had become an event to be judged by your peers. Living a best-selling life meant you could retire and leave an inheritance for your family when you passed away. In grammar school they learned to write, training their tiny fingers to fly across a keyboard to record words, all with the knowledge that they would document their life’s journey when they reached their seventieth year.
But becoming a high school history teacher and devoting over thirty years of your life to educating future generations didn’t sell books. Being faithful and loving your wife for fifty years didn’t sell books. Raising children and grandchildren into happy healthy adults wasn’t going to land your life on the front of magazines.
Edward Ames lived an uneventful life. He didn’t invent lightning rods, or bifocals, or open the first public library. He didn’t jump from airplanes or record Broadway show tunes.
So why did Alec want to meet this man?
Since that night, he’d read hundreds of autobiographies that most people might consider to be inconsequential, but they were wrong. Tales of women who raised children on their own, girl scout leaders, veterinarians, doctors, nurses, and every one of their stories was worthwhile and unique in its own way. Each family had a story to tell, to remember. Some made him laugh, others made him cry, but in spite of their lack of heroics or scandal, they mattered.
He plucked another book from the shelf and made his way back to the computer station where the cursor blinked at the end of his last sentence. He was just finishing up the chapter chronicling his fourth divorce and leading up to his fifth marriage. He smiled a little. He’d married for the fifth time as they parachuted from an airplane. They both wanted to be able to add the detail to their life in hopes of having a best-seller. He wasn’t positive that he ever loved her really, but it did make for a colorful chapter.
Chuckling to himself, Alec shook his head. He thought he had life all figured out, until he started reading about the mundane lives of the inconsequential autobiographies. While these men and women may not have ever sold many copies of their books, their lives were real and rich. Their families were strong.
He lived a life of dirty laundry in hopes of one day cashing in on the tawdry details. What kind of legacy was that to leave behind?
A tremor shot through his hand as he clicked save and closed the file. Carefully he opened the next book. The binding was battered, and the pages were brittle and faded. The copyright date made him frown. This book was from the year 2000 which was before the mandate.
The title was simply, For my Family, by Elis Forester, and the book opened with "When I am gone, what do I leave behind? Words or deeds? Love or hate? For me the answer is simple. I leave behind my family and a life filled with glorious memories."
Was it better to create memories to be envied by the world, or memories to be shared with your family? Alec leaned back in his chair with tears in his eyes. He was so focused on his best-selling life that he never took the time to have a family. And once his best-seller was out of print, would anyone remember him or his life?
He remembered Elis. Elis Forester was Alec’s great-grandfather.
He led an extraordinary life filled with sacrifice and love for his family.
Alec stared at the pages for a moment before carefully closing the cover and tucking the book under his arm. He slid his phone out of his pocket and called his sister.
"Jane? It’s Alec."
"Alec? Is it really you? Is everything all right?"
He smiled, teary eyed at hearing her voice again. How many years had it been since he’d spoke to her? Too many.
"Everything is fine. Listen, can you get the family together for tomorrow night? I found a book on the shelves here that I think everyone should see."
"I’ll see what I can do."
"Thanks Jane. I owe you one."
She paused as her voice wavered. "It’s great to hear from you again Alec. We’ve missed you."
"I missed you too. I hope it’s not too late for me to be a part of the family again."
"It’s never too late, Alec."
His autobiography could wait.
His family had waited long enough.