Memoir Writing Prompt: Writing About Home

by Matilda Butler on May 23, 2017

Writing Prompt LogoPost #237 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Matilda Butler

Writing About Home

I picked up a copy of the Stanford Magazine recently and noted with interest that the featured series of articles focused on the topic of home. My imagination immediately took over. There was my childhood home and a cabin that we had at the same time — a cabin where we spent summers during the worst of the polio scare. There was the college dorm room that I turned into my version of a home complete with plants and teapots and wall hangings (and books). There were three rented homes with my first husband before we could purchase one. And the list goes on. Different homes, different places, different levels of maturity, different interests. And yet they are all stored in my mind under the word “home.”

memoir writing prompt about homeThe first article in the magazine shows a drawing of a home with the following questions asked:

–What does “home” mean to you?
–Is it a place you feel bound to?
–A familiar routine?
–A sense of belonging?

Then the article goes on to say, “Over the next 50 pages, we examine the many ways we create and experience home.”

Home: A Writing Prompt for Memoir Writers

Below I’ll share how I responded to the third (and sort of the seventh) writing prompt. Once I thought of the topic of home, I was surprised that I’d never focused on it in a writing prompt before. As soon as I started to write individual prompts, I found that I had seven almost immediately and could have easily added more. But the list is meant to inspire you, not restrict you. You can add specific ones that you’d like to write about. But first, here’s my list. I hope you open your computer or pick up your pencil and start writing, right away:

1. What does “home” mean to you? (A place, a state of mind, a town, a building, etc.)

2. Have you incorporated “home” in your memoir? If so, in what way. If not, why not. You might want to reconsider.

3. When you think of your childhood and home, what is the first thing you remember?

4. Is “home” a liberating or confining place for you?

5. Make a list of all the homes you have lived in. Then read the list and write about the one that is the most unusual. The one where you lived the shortest amount of time. The one you liked the best.

6. Which home did you most regret leaving? Which one were you happy to leave?

7. What is your favorite room in any of the homes where you have lived?

Matilda and Home: Memories

Home and food are inexorably joined in my mind. Maybe you think I recall my mother’s summer dinners of fresh vegetables and fried chicken or the scent of her favorite lemon meringue pie baking in the oven or the sounds of Maxwell House coffee brewing in the percolator–blub, blurp, blup, blup.

No. Cooking is what I think about when I imagine home. My love of cooking goes back to when I was a little girl. I remember our tiny kitchen, the walls a robin’s egg blue, the floor light beige linoleum with a darker brown border around the edge, the counters a light cyan tile, and all white appliances. This was fairly typical of the 40s and 50s and might be much like your childhood kitchen.

But I’m willing to bet that we had something you didn’t. Perhaps the most unusual design element was the ceiling. My mother had her own sense of style and never hesitated to use it. A few years before my parents died, the family gathered at a party to honor them and tell them what we appreciated about their lives. One of my sons focused on my mother’s sense of style–truly classy in spite of this particular example. What was different in my childhood kitchen was that my mother had put wallpaper on the ceiling…white with large, random gold stars. Today it sounds odd; it may have seemed odd back in the 50s. But it seemed quite reasonable to me as a child.

The hand-painted pale green wrought iron glass-top table that held the place of honor in the middle of the room is now in my family room and we eat breakfast there everyday. True, I’ve spray painted the table a number of times, and it needs a refresher coat of Hammerite’s bronze as I write this. A task that needs to be undertaken before the heavy winter rains of the Pacific Northwest make it impossible for me to paint outside. But underneath all the layers of paint, past, present and future, are still the crystal clear colors of the original memories.

“Want to help me make brownies?” said Mother.

Back in the 1940s, I had to stand on a low stool so that I was tall enough to see over the pullout wooden cutting board. I remember gathering my child-sized baking pans, probably two inches by three and putting them on the board. My mother, her blond hair pulled back in a loose summertime bun, made up her special brownie batter that featured Oklahoma pecan pieces and super sweet chopped dates. She’d let me put some of the mixture in my own pans that I’d carefully buttered under her supervision. Then she put them into the oven along with the pan for the family’s dessert. Before I knew it, the scent of dark rich chocolate filled the room and my pans were ready to come out—before the large pan but that was just perfect because I got to sample the brownies sooner. Such a lovely memory.

From my early cooking experiences right to today, the scents of cooking and home are treasured experiences.

Now It’s Your Turn to Write

Write about home. Let your mind fill with all the details of place. Please leave a comment below about this prompt. I’d love to hear from you.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara Etgen-Baker June 2, 2017 at

Reading this post I began to think of home in many different lights…of course, one of those is the place where I grew up and where childhood experiences formed the beginnings of the person I am today. Home was a secure place and, like you, Matilda, it is filled with memories of cooking, nurturing, and motherhood. But home is more than that singular experience. I’ve lived in many different homes so at the core, home is a sense of belonging, security, and safety. Sometimes that home is deep within me whenever I’m facing adversity or difficulty. Other times, it is in the comfort of my own living room as I look out at the countryside out my back door. I give pause and now I must follow your prompts, your lead, and write more. Thank you for those prompts!

Matilda Butler June 2, 2017 at

Hi Sara:
You really nailed it when you wrote: “Sometimes that home [...belonging, security, and safety...] is deep within me whenever I’m facing adversity or difficulty.”

We were both fortunate to grow up in loving homes. But whatever the past experience, we can all create the type of home we want now. It isn’t about money. It is about attitude.

Thanks for commenting. I always appreciate your take on life.

Sonvy Sammons June 11, 2017 at

I love your post on homes….got me to thinking. I too have had many homes, starting with a childhood home severely troubled by Dad’s alcoholism. But I can happily reflect on how different my own home, that I created with my husband, has been, and feel grateful. It is a rich topic for a memoir vignette…or longer….
Thanks for your good ideas and advice!

Matilda Butler June 11, 2017 at

Sonvy:

It means a lot to me to find that these writing ideas and suggestions are helpful. I do appreciate your comment.

Your concept of a look at a one’s own personal childhood home and comparing that with the home one creates for our children is powerful. It is another way of showing influences on our lives and our ability to reflect on what has made us the people we are today.

Best wishes to you on your writing.

Frances Dunn June 13, 2017 at

Matilda,
Thank you for a great and meaningful post. Right away it brought to mind my mini-memoir titled, “Love Apples,” that was one of the 25 published back in August 2012 in Womens Memoirs. When you mentioned tips again on what we perceive as home, I recalled that story and my mother’s Apple Crisp recipe that I still bake today. Loved this post.
Frances

Matilda Butler June 13, 2017 at

Hi Frances: I do remember your mini-memoir. And thanks for your comment on this post.
We are just starting to look for recipes made during WWII. (Here’s the link to the article we just published. Near the end, we indicate our interest in WWII recipes. http://rosiesdaughters.com/rosies-daughters-wwii/world-war-ii/rosie-the-riveter-and-nutrition/)
Do you think your Mother’s recipe is that old?
–Matilda

Ann Bennett July 8, 2017 at

Matilda
Thanks for your very helpful prompts related to the theme of “home”. They provide some rich ways to approach this topic which has been very much a part of my thinking for years. In my own experience of living in several different countries, starting with moving from my birth country to the country of my husband, and then on from there to others; being “home” in sometimes very foreign surroundings has been an interesting challenge. As I write this, I am in the midst of making a new home. Unpacking possessions that have been in storage for many years brings up lots of memories and questions about “home”. I find the experience quite profound. How will it all come together?
So, thank you for inspiring me to think about different shades of “home”, and to look again at some of my writing about the homes I’ve lived in and what has been the essence of “home” in each of them.

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