Q. What about for those who would like to leave some memories for others in their family?
A. Write your own story. Your children and grandchildren would be delighted if you told them where you grew up, what happened when you were young, how you met your husband on a snowy afternoon. People love the early stories. My grandchildren love my memoir, Kitchen Privileges, more than anything I've written.
Q. It's their chance to learn about your early life.
A. Yes, and it's about connection. Look at all this search for ancestry today. If you can just put the memories down for others — not just the memories of your parents, but the memories of the aunt who was a pain in the neck, too, that's a gift.
It takes people back to another era, another time, and tells them how things were. People can't believe that I heard the milk delivery in the morning on a horse and wagon — that clip-clop, clip-clop. Today when I hear carriages go by near Central Park, I'm back in my little room when I was 8 or 9.
Q. So it's the details, the atmosphere, the stories that matter.
A. It lets people know how things were and where they came from. I still remember how my mother and her sisters would sit around the table with the endless cups of tea and tell stories: "Oh, remember Kitty? Poor darling. She could have anyone and married that one." Wonderful stories! If people can capture some of that for their children and grandchildren, attach an old photo to it, and use a line from an old family joke as a title, it will be cherished for generations.
Maureen Mackey is a writer and editor in New York.