My Name is Nancy is a memoir written by Nancy Calkins for the author’s children and grandchildren. But her story has such detail and some pointed insights that make it good reading for other booklovers as well. Nancy Womdeldorff Caulkins recalls family history before her time, moves into her childhood memories, heads into her teen years and brings readers up to date with her adult life. The picture of her ancestors can be the story of many immigrants to this country and helps readers appreciate how we all came from somewhere else. The angst of her teen years is universal to many; her honesty in dealing with a rough marriage can be helpful to young women in a similar situation.
I have to admit that I shared part of Nancy’s life so my review is colored by our mutual memories. With that said, I totally enjoyed her story. I love memoir, am somewhat of a voyeur in looking at the lives of others through memoirs, and I found hers fast and wonderful. She told me things about my own region of Kansas I never knew.
I had a few questions for the author that I will share with you below.
1. The detail of your grandfather going out the back door every time your dad walked in the front door was a painful point to read. It must have been very hard on your mom and I wonder she ever had the nerve to marry your dad! Was your grandfather as stanch in all his beliefs? And looking back now, do you see anyway for these two in-laws to ever have connected better than avoidance?
My mother’s strength had already been tested when she stood up to her father and left home after college, a decision with which her parents disagreed. I think the greatest pain was for my dad, rather than my mother. She already knew what Grandfather was like and how he felt. My dad had tears when he told me about Grandfather walking out. It hurt him that her parents were unwilling to accept him, unwilling to even give him a chance. I can’t speak much to my Grandfather’s beliefs because I was only five years old when he passed away. I do know that he was a teetotaler and when the doctor recommended he drink a beer a day for his heart, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. From what I know, I would never have expected him to behave any differently or to become more accepting. Some people never change and I believe she knew her dad was one of those people. My dad was a good man, loving and caring. It was Grandfather’s loss that he never got to know him. Sometimes I wonder if Grandfather ever laughed.
2. In writing a memoir, how did you choose what to put in and what to leave out?
I chose to leave out some of the ugliness that really added nothing to my message. I wrote extensively about family history and family stories because that’s what I wanted to preserve. I omitted what was unnecessary or undeserving of inclusion. The greater task was trying to recall all that I wanted to include, and thank goodness for other family members for helping me to do that. Even now I remember things or hear new stories that I could have included. For that reason I think a memoir is never really complete.
3. Your research on your genealogy seemed very complete. Do you have any special tips that you learned in finding your family story that others writers could use?
Fortunately, my sister Joyce had already done extensive genealogy work. I’m also a lifetime member of the Womelsdorf Family Association which is a wonderful resource for my ancestry. I took advantage of the Internet to do research and am currently helping my husband track his family heritage. The Internet has proved invaluable. I think the important thing is not to give up. Some days I come up with nothing, but on other days I may find several family members to add.
4. You are super honest about your first marriage and that you endured a painful situation for nearly twenty years, longer than you should have. You urge young women to avoid this path and to learn to take care of themselves. I agree that education is a ticket, but do you have any warning signs for young women to watch for in avoiding this kind of relationship or how to get out of one they might be in?
We each determine our own worth, so to accept less than we deserve is cheating ourselves. Being treated less than an equal means it’s time to reassess. If the emotional chaos, turmoil, and anxiety far outweigh any positive, satisfying fulfillment in a relationship, then I would contend that something isn’t right. The chaos may come from verbal or physical abuse, lack of respect, isolation, anger problems, control issues, dishonesty—from a variety of personal problems. Being in love doesn’t mean being in constant pain.
Another strong point you make, Nancy, is that we affect each other’s lives and that sometimes we don’t even know it. One example is Nurse Green, a woman you never actually met, but she was a blood match and donated blood for a transfusion that might have saved your baby from damage after her birth. Thanks for the reminder that we all matter and leave a mark somewhere.
Even if you don’t know Nancy, this book is a good little read. Even if you don’t know southeastern Kansas, you will find foods, games, and traditions of the 1950s and 1960 era Midwest entertaining. If you ever want to write a memoir for your own children, My Name is Nancy makes a great teacher on how to do it right. The book can be ordered from Amazon.