Alameda Times-Star (CA)-December 14, 2009
Author: Joan Aragone, San Mateo County Times
As a child, I recall my mother talking about her high school years, showing me scrapbooks and telling me stories.
After much questioning, my reticent father opened up on the subject of his childhood, when he played on the open slopes of hillsides that are now covered with homes. It sounded like another world.
But when our parents and grandparents were young, most of them weren’t taking notes. As they got older, as in all families, life took over. Nobody had time to wonder about the past.
Eventually, the grandparents and their friends, with stories of life in the “old country,” were gone, then the parents. And now, when questions arise about those distant times, there’s nobody to ask.
Experience may have given us insights into challenges our parents and grandparents faced. What happened? Why were they like they were?
But, fortunately, for the benefit of memory keepers, things have changed. With personal computers and a more educated population, increasing numbers of aging Americans, who recognize the importance of writing down their stories, are creating personal records.
Some, who cover specific periods, may work alone or with family members. But others, especially those who write about entire lives, work with memoirists, professional writers who help organize and present often complex information in narrative form.
That’s the process for John De Luca, 76, of Redwood City ˜ executive vice president of the California Wine Institute, chairman of the board of directors of the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at UCSF, and adviser to the president of the University of California on agriculture and business initiatives, among other positions ˜ who is working with San Francisco journalist Francine Brevetti, creator of Legend Crafter, on a narrative of his fascinating life.
Brevetti says her business “kind of grew.” While a business writer at the Oakland Tribune, Brevetti profiled a man who had mentioned he wanted his life story written. After leaving the paper, she worked with De Luca, and he referred her to another client.
“This kind of work enriched my soul,” she said.
Brevetti’s method is collaborative. Using a recorder, she asks questions, then using transcriptions, shapes the story into narrative. The storyteller then reads and revises the manuscript. Other sources may be interviewed as the family or subject requires. Projects can be long or short, some meant for publication, others for personal use within a family.
De Luca’s is a complex story. The son of Italian immigrants, he grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan before moving to California. Then came a doctorate in Soviet Studies, service in the White House during the Vietnam era and, in a career switch that reflects his varied life, appointment as deputy mayor of San Francisco under Mayor Joe Alioto during the period of the Zodiac killer and other tumultuous events.
De Luca was a witness to history in many settings ˜ all before serving as president of the Wine Institute for 28 years, during which time he participated in interviews for UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library Oral History Project on the California wine industry.
“The consensus was that I should put all this down,” he said. “I’m being responsive to family and friends.”
But with a busy schedule, he needed a collaborator.
“I’m 76, but I feel 26,” he said in a telephone interview.
“I’ll probably never ‘retire.’ I’m as busy now as I have ever been,” he said. “Francine provides the discipline that is difficult in my life as it continues.”
“Nobody understands how hard it is to write your own story,” Brevetti said. “It’s challenging, partly because of the memories. Some don’t want to return to bad memories. Some may not have memories. When they work with a professional, they just talk, or they can be guided through the memory. Not everybody wants to be published, they just want to record things for their families.”
For De Luca, the project is proving rewarding.
“There is a beautiful flood of recall that would have never been,” he said. “It’s an enrichment for me and my family.”
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