One thing you’ve certainly learned if you’ve been reading this blog over time is that residents of Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge have led interesting lives, and have a lot of fascinating stories to tell.
Some of them have taken the time to write those stories out and share them with their neighbors. That’s the purpose of the Memoir Writing group, which is one of the many resident-run activities enjoyed at WCBR. It meets the second Friday of each month, at 10 in the morning in the Bishops Conference Room.
That’s when about a dozen members sit together around a long table and share what they’ve been writing since the last meeting. They do that by reading their memoirs aloud, for the others to hear.
But don’t be intimidated by that. “The others just listen,” says Gail Rubin. “There is no critiquing at all. It’s all about sharing and enjoying listening to the others.”
Gail is the resident who serves as the contact person for the group, and of course, she writes memoirs herself. “I am relatively new to it,” she says. She only started when she moved into WCBR two-and-a-half years ago.
The first story she shared with the group was one sharing a memory from her childhood, about 1,200 words. It’s called “The Diamond G:”
“I was fortunate to grow up in Illinois with parents who loved to travel. It all began when I was not quite five. We headed out west with my older brother for our summer vacation. We were going to go to Colorado, where we would stay at a little working dude ranch in the mountains… We would look for the funny sequence of Burma Shave signs along the highway…. But what we were most looking forward to was our first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains’ outline on the horizon. I’ll never forget how astonished I was, in driving up and around, and up and around a mountain to see large patches of snow on the mountainside. In June!…”
That one was nostalgic, but sometimes the stories are deeply personal, and profoundly painful. At their most recent meeting, Gail told the group about what happened to her 23-year-old daughter, Jennifer Lynn Rubin, in 1984: She was murdered while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African country of Togo. That one we won’t share here, but Gail had the courage to share it with the group.
Others deal with tragic circumstances that are not quite as personal. One like that spurred memories from other members of the group. It’s called “The Taste of Holidays Past.” She tells of creaming some sweet potatoes in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner in 1963. She listened to the radio while she worked, and suddenly heard, “I am interrupting this program to inform you that the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, has been assassinated…”
That prompted a lot of sharing from other members of the group, about just what they were doing at that shocking moment in history.
Often, Gail is inspired by photographs, and she has some good ones to draw upon. “I did photography seriously for some years,” she said. After living for years in New Orleans, she and her husband moved to upstate New York. Then they bought some land in Nova Scotia, and at that point, “We became sailors.”
Her husband had started writing for sailing magazines, and “I did the photography.” She has some remarkable pictures of a trip the two of them took along the coast of Greenland in 2012. She’ll tell about that in a special program in March.
The Memoir Writing group has been invited to fill one of the lecture slots of the WILL program. On March 20, five members will read memoirs, just as they do in their regular meetings. But this will be different, because it will be “in the Rotunda with a larger audience.”
The Rubins moved to the Charlottesville area in 1992, and lived on the west side of town. After Gail’s husband passed away in 2019, she looked around for a new home, and decided WCBR was “a wonderful place to live out my life.” And she already knew people here.
Like so many others here, Gail stays busy, and not just with writing. You may have read here last year about her involvement with the Weekend Walkers. The memoir writing is less physically demanding, but rewarding. “It’s just a sharing thing,” and she enjoys it.
“Everyone there has impressed me by being a good writer.”