Kauffman teaches students to collect life's snapshots

October 23, 1994
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

Jean Kauffman teaches people to capture memories and store them so they can be shared with others. This wonderful skill is currently being offered through the Davis Adult School.

I dropped by the Davis Senior Center on Wednesday morning to sit in on Kauffman's class ``Memories to Memoirs II.''

Kauffman, a free-lance writer and former teacher, clearly has a good time with her class.

``They are my dear friends,'' she says. The class format is simple: Kauffman introduces a writing topic for a brief discussion (last week it was the effective use of anecdotes), gives the next week's assignment (your first fulltime job as an adult), and then the students read the material they wrote during the week.

On Wednesday, Norris Wilson, Dorothy Hedrick, Rebecca Moore-Poe, Lyn Brinton, David Israel, Russ Olson, Martha Messenger, Molly Mustard and Evelyn Cleaver made up the class. The late Sumner Morris was an enthusiastic member of an earlier class, she said.

Kauffman says she tries to help her students become better writers. That's not a difficult task, she adds, because the group wants to learn to write effectively.

``These people want to learn,'' she says. She added that a former university professor in her class had be taught to write concisely and clearly after a career in academia, but all her advice is delivered with a kind word and gentle tone and he was a good sport.

She frequently tells her class: ``I am critiquing, not criticizing.''

Kauffman does not ask her students to write about life's painful moments, but many tearful or shocking stories do get to be told. She's heard about life in Japanese internment camps during World War II and the loss of children and other loved ones.

On Wednesday, Brinton read a character sketch about her father called ``A 1930s Hippie.'' The essay described a difficult man, a heavy smoker, an individualist, who married three times and loved racing cars.

``It was very difficult to write, emotionally, but I'm glad I did it,'' she told the class. ``It adds to my self-knowledge.''

Russ Olson had the class laughing with his essay on a most embarrassing moment which had him as a lovestruck teen-ager desperately trying to impress a young lady named Harriet. In an effort to untie the boat from the pier so the two could row across a romantic lake, Olson toppled in the water in front of his beloved.

``You caught the whole feeling,'' said Kauffman.

The baby of the class - an adult woman with gray in her dark hair - Rebecca Moore-Poe wrote a prose poem about her mother called ``Sour Plum Jam'' that had the class sighing with admiration at her deft description and turn of a phrase.

``Becky, it's just beautiful,'' said Kauffman.

Molly Mustard wanted to bring her essay to class but couldn't get it out of her computer.

``I did the assignment,'' she said, ``but it's stuck in my computer. I'm just learning to use it and I can't get it to print.''

``Well,'' said Kauffman, ``I guess that beats `the dog ate my homework.' ''

``The mouse probably ate it,'' cracked Wilson.

Wilson's essay concerned a traumatic childhood memory. The event took place in southern Indiana one March in the 1930s when he was 9 years old.

``This is difficult to put into words,'' he apologized. ``March is the time when sharecroppers move - it's a trauma for the kids.''

But on this occasion the family didn't move, the house did. The child went to school in the morning with his house in one location and came home in the afternoon to find it had been moved nearby.

Dorothy Hendrick also wrote about a childhood in the Midwest. She described an incident that took place when she was 8 and pushed her older brother, 10, out the window. He wasn't hurt.

``But he always was a big tease,'' said Hendrick.

Evelyn Cleaver didn't finish writing the assignment.

Martha Messenger not only completed the assignment but is compiling a collection of childhood memories that includes Thanksgiving, 1934, when the family's turkey was stolen by a hungry man for his family.

Kauffman saved her harshest criticism for her star pupil, David Israel. He wrote an essay about a white child's first look at a black man.

``You write so well, David, you could have made it stronger,'' said Kauffman.

``They are so enthusiastic,'' she said later. ``I just love them.''

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