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Twila Van Leer: Finally, I've started to write my own history

Ahem! Brief drumroll, please.

It's happening. The thing I've been meaning to do for years, I'm doing. I am actually starting to write my own history. You can say you were here on the spot when it happened. The start, that is. Whether I ever get beyond that, only time will tell. I've been known to start things that are not finished to this day. There is that brown sweater in a bag somewhere. But I am determined.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been advised historically to keep their own records and to write diaries, journals or whatever will preserve the life tale. I've always meant to comply.

Acting on the theory that late is better than never, I now take computer in hand (that used to sound better in the past when we said we were going to take pen in hand, but there's nothing I can do about that now. We must take computers in hand whether we like it or not) and end the long drought.

Part of the challenge of writing a history is where to start. I've talked with friends and family who have had the same problem.

Of course, there is the chronological approach. "I was born …." But I never wanted to do that. Being born was one of those things over which I had no control. It's pretty obvious that anyone who writes their own story was born. Certainly to make my story complete, I will have to deal eventually with the vital statistics, but I'm not going to start there.

I find that as I get serious about this undertaking, there are any number of things I want to write about: My dear families, the one I grew up in and the one I had, special friends, my work (I never intended to be a career person, but circumstances ruled against me), people who have influenced my life, the pervasive influence of my religion, fun times, sad times and challenging times. There are successes and failures, which about balance out, and things I love, including photography, travel, flowers, butterflies, birds and chocolate.

Oh, stop. If I begin to feel overwhelmed already, I'll throw in the towel and fail even to make a start. Why did I wait until I was 83? I would have had a lot less to write if I'd begun when I was 10.

There is no rule against going the chronological route, but I think it would be more effective to start with some element of your life that had particular impact. Could be an event, an epiphany, a special relationship, what you consider the most important thing that ever happened to you.

After thinking about it for a long time, I am choosing to begin with a place. Pioche, Nevada, is where our family lived from the time I was 9 years old until I ambled out to make my fortune after high school graduation. (By the way, the fortune never happened. I won't have to write about that.)

So, this is it. Everything from here on is what will go into my personal history:

Pioche, Nevada

I was in the third grade when my father became superintendent of the Salt Lake-Pioche Mine and we were transported, lock, stock and barrel, to the historic mining town of Pioche. In its beginnings, which was in the mid-1800s, it was a thriving place and named for the man who financed a lot of the mining that took place there, F.L.A. Pioche (French, pronounced Pee-O-Shay then, but people got smarter as time went on and when we got there, it was just Pee-Oche).

In the Pioche grade school, we proudly sang about how the town had "paid its way with a million tons of ore." The lead/silver/zinc mines did, in fact, put significant metal into the Union cause during the Civil War. Nevada became a state in 1864, long before Utah.

In its heyday, some 10,000 people inhabited the town, sprawled out over several mine-pocked hills and the valley floor. But fires and mine failures had reduced it down to about 3,000-4,000 people when we were there. World War II had revived the mines, but by the time I left there in 1951, the handwriting was on the wall. What awaited Pioche was ghost town status. Or just about. The county seat of Lincoln County, it would always have government business to keep some folks around. That and the ranching that went on in the valley.

The wind blew a lot, huge gales or little breezes that snuffled around at the roots of the sage, mesquite and other desert plants hoping to find something more than a sego lily, orange mallow flower or cactus to write home about.

It's a start. If things go as planned, I'll be continuing the story for a while each Sunday. And if I can do it, so can you. We'll provide the drumroll.

Twila Van Leer is a former Deseret News editor and staff writer who serves as a family history missionary.