“I was five when I and my sisters were kidnapped
while we were picking cotton,” she began.
I was at an independent living community in Clarksville, Tennessee, hosting a Show and Tell during last May when I met a special lady. It was Mabel’s turn. She held up a photo of three small girls. Mabel had been a victim of the notorious baby kidnapping ring of Georgia Tann that existed in Memphis from the 1920s until 1950. The story is almost lost in history. Tann was never prosecuted due to her thick network of contacts. She provided child labor and beautiful children for adoption to the highest bidders.
Later Mabel shared with me about her full and prodigious life: she had been a columnist, a radio host, and a deputy sheriff. She was a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother. But she tells me she knows with her ailments and age that her time is short. She wants to write and share her story at last. You can see the joy and relief in her face as she shared it with us that day. And she courageously agreed to let me use her photo and story.
In my own creative expression, sometimes music works best for me, sometimes poetry, sometimes story or dance. I went home that day and began work on a song, Time to Tell. The character who sings the song is an older woman, who is moving from the home place to assisted living. She packs up a few things as she downsizes. But certain memories remain, a skeleton in her closet. Should these secrets move with her, or be told? Could it be time to tell? The chorus emerged:
I won’t be here long, this is my swan song,
It’s time to tell what went right and wrong!
– Deborah Wilbrink, Time to Tell c. 2015
Mabel’s long-kept secret opened a door for me to creativity. I hope the song will inspire others. Her story was one of many I have heard as people shared their secrets, sometimes for publication, and sometimes “off the record.” Telling your story can be cathartic and freeing, another benefit of writing memoir – and of creating music.
This is the first of a series of blogs published each Thursday about Perfect Memoir’s personal history projects.