Of the many benefits of a college education (knowledge gained, careers launched, etc.,) perhaps none is more meaningful than the lifelong connections forged — at least that’s the case for Marjory Lyons, who stepped onto the campus of the New York State College for Teachers College in 1946. In her new memoir, The Remarkable Friendship of the Four Girls, Lyons details a friendship that began with three other classmates and has blossomed for nearly 80 years. After a career that included more than two decades as a dissertation chair for graduate students at Nova Southeastern University, Lyons, now 93 years old, runs her own memoir writing business called Telling Your Story, LLC. (Editor’s note: Answers have been edited for clarity and space considerations.)
Q: Is a good memoir a love letter, time capsule, both or neither?
A: A memoir reflects the highlights of a person’s life. It is not a love story. To be an interesting read, it needs to touch on most aspects of a person’s life in a diplomatic and tactful way. In my memoir, three of us girls were always getting dates for Smitty. (Barbara is her real name, but she coined Smitty-Barbara to accommodate me.) As I wrote the final draft of the book, I thought that maybe Smitty (now over 90) would not like to be characterized as a 17-year-old girl who couldn’t get a date. So, I made sure to tell the time when Frank, another blind date, walked in, liked what he saw, and she liked him. They fell in love. They married a few months later. So, the girl who couldn’t get a date was married for 65 years.
Q: There’s a great moment in your book when, after 35 years, you’re suddenly reconnected with your long-lost college friends. Do you think that was chance or some larger force at work?
A: The loyalty of our friendship meant we always wanted to see one another, to catch up on things. In the early days, we didn’t travel the way folks do today. As it happened, I was able to visit Smitty in Kinderhook, N.Y, Jane in Portland, Oregon, and Elise in Washington, D.C., several times. Perhaps there was a force pulling us together. There still is. That’s why I needed to write the book.
Q: You have a business that writes memoirs for others. What do you tell people who say their life’s story isn’t that interesting?
A: Everyone has a story worth telling. One time after a visit to my doctor, he talked about his children, showing me his daughter’s artwork, saying that he takes his 5-year-old son on rounds with him and that he has a tiny stethoscope. He told me that when he started out in life, he wanted to be a jazz saxophonist. I told him he should tell his story. He replied, “My life isn’t interesting.” Imagine that! A doctor not having a life full of amazing moments? I listed the aspects of his life he had just told me. He shook his head. Sometimes a person opens up once you have assured him or her that their life story is worth telling. I know how to help them tell it. That is my pleasure.