A Madison Magazine Reader’s Memories Become 
a Published Memoir
Jan 22, 2013
11:10 AM
From Memory to Memoir

Forward to Madison

Forward to Madison

In September 2012 Madison Magazine and I teamed up to offer a reader the chance to see his or her life story become a book. We received so many great entries that we are sharing a few with readers of this blog. This entry came from April Hoffman, winning third place. Enjoy April’s writing!

– Sarah White

Forward to Madison

By April Hoffman

In 1971, our young family lived in a small Illinois town where neighbors, disapproving of both our interracial family and our pacifism, regularly harassed us with anonymous phone calls. Lonely and depressed, I read about College Week for Women in Madison. Occurring between spring and summer semesters, participants would live in dorms and take mini-courses. The brochure repeatedly mentioned a local celebrity whom I assumed I’d meet, a Miss Forward.

Neither John nor I had ever been to Wisconsin, and my driving had been limited to local shopping trips, but desperate for intellectual stimulation and liberal people, I announced my intention to go. Suppressing my fear of highway driving, I nervously backed our beige Duster out of the driveway and headed north.

When I arrived, I found love at first sound. Bells tolling the Westminster Chimes floated across Bascom Hill. Peace signs sprouted everywhere, and colorfully clad students streamed out of campus buildings. On State Street, political buttons, tie-dyed shirts, and Cecil’s sandals crowded bright store windows. Inside shops, smoky incense bewitched my nose. Coffeehouses announced poetry readings. Enticing titles crammed bookstore shelves. Pauls’ Books, the University Bookstore and Fanny Garver’s elegant upstairs gallery offered hours of nourishing browsing. Downstairs, in Record World, the knowledgeable manager showed me LPs of revolutionary electronic music. A tiny shop around the corner, the Soap Opera, sold a small selection of handmade soaps. I longed to hug total strangers.

Too soon my delightful week ended. The last night, as I stood on the Union terrace admiring the reflection of stars on Lake Mendota, I made a decision. Calling John from a pay phone in the Union, I told him I was moving to Madison with the kids. The following week, all four of us drove up. Thank goodness John was equally smitten, although he insisted I wait for him to find a job there before moving.

Three long, depressing years later, frustrated by fruitless interviews, John tendered his resignation in that hostile town. We would move to Madison without job security. It was a gutsy decision, and what happened next made us feel almost religious. Willing to take such a courageous risk, John immediately began receiving job offers. Our three-year-old daughter’s behavior, spurred by our elation, summed up our feelings. As we uncorked cheap champagne, she whirled around the living room, shouting joyfully, ”We’re moving to Matsin! We’re moving to Matsin!”

My parents babysat while we searched for an affordable apartment. When we found it, we bought a Marko Spalatin serigraph from Fanny for our wall, and an LP of synthesizer music from Record World. The night before we picked up the kids, the two of us celebrated by having dinner at the State Street Ovens of Brittany. Seated upstairs, looking down on the parade of car headlights snaking below us, I said, “You know what I believe? I believe we were killed instantly and we’re in heaven.” Forty years later we still wonder if it might be true.

Photo courtesy of April Hoffman

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About This Blog

Sarah White, author and personal historian, has written for a variety of markets ranging from business “how-to” books to consumer advice for teens. She applies her professional writing experience to help individuals preserve their life stories through workshops, community projects and one-to-one coaching. Born into a writing family, White graduated from Indiana University in 1980 with a Journalism degree. She has been a professional freelance writer since 1998. Her memoir essays have been published online and in print. She has taught memoir writing locally since 2004, helping dozens of individuals to complete and publish their life stories. She is active in the Association of Personal Historians (www.personalhistorians.org), currently serving as the organization's president. 

 Sarah White

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