Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Liverwurst and Gingersnaps

by Laura Mahal

With the 2018 NCW Conference right around the corner, I figured I’d write a Top Ten list of Copyediting Techniques You Must Master, addressing the trends I see: overused words and phrases, commonly misspelled words, inconsistencies within scenes, and so on. 

But when it comes down to it, there is only one rule I unfailingly follow.

When my neighbor comes over to visit, I drop what I’m doing and get out the gingersnaps.

Ron Shriner turned ninety last week. And though his memory is a little less stellar than it was this time last year or the year before, he is still a walking, talking history book. 

Ron is fond of gingersnaps and liverwurst, and when I go to the grocery store, I am certain to stock up. The longstanding joke never grows old.

Ron: “Is the coffee ready?”

Me: “It’ll be ready in two minutes. Come on over.”

Ron: “Got any gingersnaps?” (Wait for it.) 
“Ginger doesn’t snap. She bites!” 

I have Mr. Ron sayings all over my house. On my refrigerator, tucked next to my work computer. He has a terrific sense of humor and his words are worth preserving. 

When he swings by, I grab a grocery list, an envelope, or whatever random bit of paper happens to be lying about. Then I dash down the witticisms Ron chooses to share.

Points to Ponder:

On work: “It’s gonna take longer than usual to put it off ‘til tomorrow.”

On death: “You gotta cross the river sometime.”

On telling his life story: “Wait a minute, I can lie some more.” 

His life is fascinating. Ron’s family moved from Kansas to Federal Heights, north of Denver, during the Dust Bowl. At the end of the Depression, a treat meant homemade ice cream made with snow, vanilla, and sugar. 

“I had a helluva time getting a nickel.” 

Ron can tell me about every theater in downtown Denver, the streetcars they rode to get there—which cost a nickel—and the kind of movies they watched. (Flash Gordon, The Mark of Zorro.)

The original Elitch Gardens had a dance hall. The Trocadero Ballroom drew performers such as Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, and the Andrews Sisters. 

According to Ron’s recollections, Artie Shaw was the first bandleader to integrate his band, hiring Billie Holiday as the lead singer. Discussions along these lines often branch out to larger-scale conversations about societal change.

For more information about Elitch Garden's historic Trocadero Ballroom, see:

Photos courtesy of

Ron’s reminiscences capture nearly a century of history. 

That isn’t the kind of writing I do. I wish I had skills in creative nonfiction or memoir, and maybe one day, I’ll cultivate them.

In the interim, I’ve drafted up notes on Ron’s experiences as a gandy dancer in Southwest Colorado while he was still in high school. I’ve detailed his time as a young Marine in Camp Pendleton at the tail end of World War II, then on to Oahu, Guam, and other assignments, including a tour of duty in Korea.

For now, I’ll drop whatever I am doing and fetch the gingersnaps and put the coffee on to brew. If it’s later in the day, I’ll slice some cheese and liverwurst and lay that out with some crackers.

Above all else, I’ll listen. 

I understand that there is nothing more important than being in the presence of a story that’s still being told.

The Case for Interviewing the Older People in Your Life

Laura Mahal is a two-time winner of the Hecla Award for Speculative Fiction. She drinks far too much coffee, but eats exactly the right amount of gingersnaps. For occasionally incendiary opinions, you may follow her @leela_mahal.


Ronda Simmons said...

This is a beautiful piece and some of the best writing advice that I have ever heard.

Deborah Nielsen said...

You're getting a wonderful story. And a few laughs. What could be better for a writer, or any of us. We all like stories about others' lives. I wish I would have written down some of the stories my Mom and Dad told me about their lives but I didn't. Now they're pretty much lost.

Kerrie said...


This is a wonderful piece. Thanks for sharing. Ron seems like an amazing person. I love this line you had at the end, "I understand that there is nothing more important than being in the presence of a story that’s still being told."
--Well said.


Laura Mahal said...

Thank you for your responses, Ronda, Deborah, and Kerrie.

It does feel brave to set down other people's stories on the page, because these personal histories are important to get exactly right. There isn't any room for creative license as there is when we are cultivating and populating our fictional worlds.

Deborah, I too wish I had written down more of my family's history, so perhaps I am trying to "set things right" when I capture Ron Shriner's memories onto the page. It is a bit like an ongoing time capsule . . . One that I keep adding to, as I don't have to wait fifty years to look at the contents. I wonder if you were to start jotting down memories, if maybe many of the recollections you have of your parents might come back to you? I hope that is the case.

I guess I'm trying hard to remember that writing is both a privilege and a responsibility. The majority of the time, I do it because I enjoy it. In addition to that, I wish to do my part to keep alive a feeling--the sense that over a lifetime or many decades--a person might just develop an amazing sense of humor and perspective. That when life seems to wear us down, we can tap into the knowledge that others have gone through trying times, and come out stronger and wiser. What we might need is the baton of resilience to be passed to us, and for us then to hand it to the next generation.

Share a Post