I first ran into the Six-Word Memoirs in Lizzie Widdicombe’s New Yorker write-up in 2008. SMITH had run a contest: Your life in six words. Why six words? Lizzie believes the precedent was Hemingway’s short story in under 10 words composed to win a bet: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
(This story is itself a piece of apocrypha attached to Papa by the playwright John deGroot in his 1996 play of the same name. Excellent explanation about it here.)
Regardless of the origin, the six-word autobiography is now well established because of the SMITH contest, which spawned a series of books: the original Not Quite What I Was Planning, (the winner of the contest from the 25-year-old hairdresser from Minnesota with the great name Summer Grimes); its sequel in a deluxe edition; then Six Word-Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak; Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure, and more.
The ones in the New York Times submitted for Mother’s Day are witty, poignant, sad, funny, and spine tingling: a complete spectrum of experiences of the mother/child relationship. You can hear whole backstories in the six words.
Here are some where the relationship was sadly painful:
Her way was the only way.
Made me the scapegoat, thanks mom.
Never a kind word for me.
She did the best she could.
Single motherhood: think long and hard.
Never met mother; sent to another.
Then there were a bunch that I could have written for my Mom:
You know what's in my heart.
Made dinner every night. Thanks, Mom.
Most intelligent human being I know.
Six words is not nearly enough.
Whenever I walked in, Mama smiled.
Put on a sweater, I'm cold.
And here are my two six-word memoirs for my Mom:
Brother happy. I cried alot. Sorry.
“No lipstick?” Sure Mom, for you.
Happy Mother’s Day to you all!