The Priceless Gift of Your Life Story

2017-09-30

My passion for recording life stories was shown this past Saturday by my willingness to travel two hours to Indy to meet five other people who carry the same passion.  We were to share what created our passion. I used that two hour drive to reflect on what ignited my passion.  In retrospect, I believe it was ingrained in me to go this path.

I wrote stories when I was a little girl. I journaled since I was 14. The first semester of my freshman year I took Journalism class and wrote for the high school newspaper the next seven semesters.

The summer of 1976 my vision expanded when I attended Indiana University’s Journalism Institute as managing editor of my high school newspaper. The guest speaker, Elliot Wigginton, was a high school educator and oral historian in the Appalachians in Georgia. He shared how he didn’t connect with his unsettled students until he began teaching in a non-traditional teaching style. They didn’t want to write traditionally so he had them interview their grandparents and other elderly people. The students took off on this and with the stories written from the interviews they compiled them into a magazine and later into their first book, “The Foxfire Book.”

The seed was planted during this session when he sparked my interest to interview everyday people and preserve their stories for future generations to read. In the introduction to his first book he wrote about the passage of a generation of grandparents who have stories to tell but don’t record them on their own because they feel future generations wouldn’t be interested.

The issue was that these grandparents were from an oral society and their stories were verbally shared generation-to-generation. Eventually these stories could be lost.

He shared, “When they’re gone, the magnificent hunting tales, the ghost stories that kept a thousand children sleepless, the intricate tricks of self-sufficiency acquired through years of trial and error, the eloquent and haunting stories of suffering and sharing and building and healing and planting and harvesting – all these go with them, and what a loss.

If this information is to be saved at all, for whatever reason, it must be saved now; and the logical researchers are the grandchildren, not university researchers from the outside. In the process these grandchildren (and we) gain an invaluable, unique knowledge about their own roots, heritage, and culture. Suddenly they discover their families – previously people as pre-television, pre-automobile, pre-flight individuals who endured and survived the incredible task of total self-sufficiency, and came out of it all with a perspective on ourselves as a country that we are not likely to see again. They have something to tell us about self-reliance, human interdependence, and the human spirit that we would do well to listen to.”

The seed was watered in 1981 when I visited my 86 year old paternal grandfather in San Antonio, Texas. He was the family historian that journaled. He  knew the importance of identifying and dating pictures. He shared with me names and critical dates of his ancestors. He enjoyed telling me stories of his life as a young man and stories of his family. I went home and purchased blank genealogical record books that I could use to hand write all the names and dates that he had proved me and continued to add to it as I talked to extended family members. My grandfather died at the age of 94 in 1989.

The first stem broke through the ground in 1985 when I audio taped my mother, and she shared her experiences as a child in the 1930’s. About that time I also began corresponding with my grandfather’s 80 year old cousin, Marie in Ohio, and she gave me valuable information regarding my grandfather’s family.  I met Marie in person in 1995, and she took me on a tour of where she grew up and my ancestors settled and gave invaluable stories regarding our ancestors. Fortunately, I was able to interview her one last time before she passed at the age of 99 in 2012 and compiled her stories and letters into a book.

Today I have a garden full of life stories and genealogical information and it is my turn as family historian. All that my grandfather and Marie shared, all the interviews that have been recorded with family members I have put into print. I have pictures and life stories recorded for future generations to read.

It was encouraging to be with these other personal historians last weekend who share the same passion and feel the same importance of preserving the life stories of everyday people. They all concurred it is a priceless gift to leave for your family, friends, community and future generations.

Do you have a family historian in your family? Are you the family historian or is it time for you to start? Now is the time for you to open up your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of your ancestors’ and have their stories recorded for future generations to read.  Where do you begin?

  • Who is the oldest ancestor that lives closest to you?
  • Is he or she willing to set up an interview?
  • Decide what part of his or her life you would want to focus on during the interview.
  • Have questions compiled to get him or her started on their story
  • Allow him or her to be silent to compile thoughts and let speak when ready.
  • Have him or her look at pictures and describe events and memories sparked from the pictures

www.keepingyourmemories.com

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Pictures Simply Capture the Memories

My cousin, Susie, was born September 26, three months and one day before I was born. She was born in Missouri. I was born in Indiana.

Our first pictures of us together – Susie was 13 months old, and I was 10 months old – were taken with an 8mm camera at our grandma’s home in Missouri.

Our last pictures of us together – forty-eight years later – were taken with a digital camera at her home in Missouri on Memorial Day 2008.

I cherish all of the pictures taken of us in between.

Susie passed on July 3, 2008.

 

 

 

There’s No Place Like (My Own) Home

Grandma and Grandpa Madden - 1006 Nelson Street

Recently a friend and her husband moved into their first home and their excitement of their new homestead rekindled my memories of how I also felt over 30 years ago when I moved into my first home.

Those memories of the first home are powerful because despite renting or owning or the size or simplicity of that first home, no one forgets the satisfaction and attainment of having your own place. And I might venture to say that this has continued for generations.

Soon after I moved to my first home, my mom, who is now deceased, shared with me the story of the first home that her parents owned:

“Back in the early 1930’s when I was growing up, my two brothers, Murice and Dewey, and my two sisters, Jo Ellen and Priscilla and I were living with Mom and Pop on Nelson Street in Webb City, Missouri. My other three siblings had already moved away from home. Mom and Pop rented that house until the time I was married in 1948.

It was a very drab one bedroom home. It had a big kitchen and living room. I don’t recall how we slept then. We might have slept on the floor in the living room.

In the winter we sat around our wood stove and kerosene lamps to keep us warm. We didn’t have any electricity until I was about eight, and we were one of the first families in town to get it. But there was only a light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

We had an outhouse. In the winter we’d run out there barefoot in the snow. When dishes had to be done, there was always someone who had to go. We used old Sears’s catalogs or newspapers for toilet paper.

When Mom and Pop first moved into this home, they rented it for $6.00 a month. Then because the landlords felt a bit kindly toward them they let them buy the house at $6.00 a month. I think they paid a total of $600 for it.”

My mother’s parents were always humble people but in this picture I see them as sitting proudly in front of their home, and I’m fortunate that my mother recorded the memories of their home.

Keeping Your Memories of your life and the homes you lived in will be enjoyable reading for your great grandchildren years from now and they will learn from you how you were able to support and maintain your home.

Open up your laptop or grab a pen and paper, find a picture of that first home to add to your story, write the address and start recording your home life experiences for future generations to read. Start with these questions:

• What made you fall in love with your first home?
• Were you living by yourself or with someone?
• Did you have many possessions to move with you to this first home?
• What special events occurred while living in this home?
• What were the sounds of your home and neighborhood?

www.keepingyourmemories.com

Good Old Summer Time

2014-06-21 (2)

It’s summer! And every year we welcome it with open arms! Many of us live busy lives and in between work, home, travel and scheduled events the summer passes by too quickly. Often times I wish for the long, lazy days of summer past.

I remember the long summer days back in the 1960’s when it seemed like summer lasted forever. Life was easy and days were long. As children, we didn’t have as many structured activities, and we took it upon ourselves to find things for us to do.

We didn’t sleep late and rarely stayed inside the house. There were many days we left the house in the morning to meet up with friends to ride bikes or go to the park. We came back for lunch and then would head back out again until dinner time.

We had hot days with no air conditioning. I remember endless hours reading in front of an installed window fan trying to cool off with the hot air blowing on me.

There were times, however, that we had absolutely nothing to do and that forced us to lay in our backyards looking up miles into the sky at the clouds thinking and dreaming. We didn’t have technological devices or any social media so there were days spent sitting in my backyard reading or drawing.

On Dad’s day off we took day trips to Chicago to sight see and visit museums and zoos. We spent quite a bit of time relaxing on Indiana beaches and hiking trails at the Dunes.

Perhaps this summer I will set aside my busy schedule and limited time and force myself to experience again a long, summer day relaxing, reading and sitting back to stare up into the clouds.

Pull out your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of your childhood summer days by starting with the questions below:

  • What is your favorite childhood summer memory?
  • What did you do to entertain yourself when you were bored?
  • After chores were finished did you meet up with friends and hang out with them until dinner time? What games did you and your friends play?
  • What were your family’s traditional summertime events and/or vacations?
  • Did you ride your bicycle during the summertime? Were you allowed to ride your bike long distances from home?

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com

Uncle Dewey and D-Day – June 6, 1944

Madden,Dewey

On June 6, 1944 more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a fifty-mile stretch to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft banded together for the D-Day invasion. At the end of the day more than 9,000 soldiers were killed or wounded but their sacrifice led to the defeat of Adolf Hitler.

Seventy-three years ago Uncle Dewey was one of those 160,000 soldiers who was part of D-Day. He was inducted into the Army on June 4, 1943. One year and two days later he landed on the beaches of Normandy along with the thousands of other troops ready to move forward as an Army private in uniform. He was a soldier, but he also was a twenty-one year old man from a small town in Missouri with a young wife and sixteen month old son waiting for him to return, and thankfully he did.

We have a photo of him in his uniform and an Honorable Discharge paper signed by a 1st Lieutenant WAC. He received the Honorable Discharge on December 25, 1945 for serving in the 967th QM Service Company.

He never told of his experience to anyone so all we know about his military service is what was recorded on that document. The paper records that his civilian occupation was as a Machinist. He was assigned as a Duty Soldier and was qualified to be a Rifle Marksman and fought in the battle of Normandy, Northern France. He earned the honors of Croix de Guerre w/Palm, two Bronze Stars and a Merit Award for good conduct. It also gives his pay data and insurance notice. The Note section contains: “3 Days lost under AW 107. Lapel Button Issued. Entitled to wear Victory Rib on European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre Ribbon. 3 Overseas Bars.” Research will need to be done to better understand how he earned the honors.

As my mother (Dewey’s sister) had always told me, Uncle Dewey never spoke of his experience of D-Day. I don’t know if anybody had tried to question him or record his story. It would have been an honor to record his story of future generations to know of his service and to honor him for his courage and sacrifice that he gave for his country. He died in 1989 when he was sixty-six years old and his memories of that day were taken with him.

If you were or are a soldier, now is the time to pull out your paper and pen or open up your laptop and start Keeping Your Memories of your military experiences. It would be a priceless gift to leave your descendants for them to read how you were a part of the history of our country. Don’t let them only remember you with a picture and a copy of your Honorable Discharge. Leave for them your story of how you heroically fought for our country and for our freedom. Start with the following questions:

  • Where did you serve?
  • What unit were you in?
  • What were you trained to do?
  • Where were you when the war ended?
  • How did you feel emotionally when you got word that the war had ended?

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com

 

Moms and Bandages…Even in Spirit

1968 - Mom and Nancy in kitchen

Happy Mother’s Day! Today is a day to celebrate our mother, and we will celebrate her whether she is with us or not. Today is a day with mixed emotions spanning from my 25 year old daughter-in-law who has a fresh open wound of losing her mother only two weeks ago to me, a 57 year old who lost my mother eight years ago, to an 80 year old friend who lost her mother thirty years ago.

The 80 year old friend said she still misses her mother. When my mother passed, a co-worker told me that she had lost her mother years before. She said not a day will go by that I don’t think of her. She was right.

The first year that I was without her was difficult because I missed the daily chats we had in the past and the quick phone calls I would make to her when I had a cooking question. With time I became accustom to her being gone. Her spirit and teachings live in me, and I think of her daily and cherish the precious memories we shared together.

This picture of my mother and me in her domain…the kitchen…depicts her so well and everything in this picture stirs memories of the mother that I love dearly. My mother was happy to be a full-time housewife and mother. She spent hours and hours working in her kitchen using her Magic Chef oven to her electric Sunbeam mixer, to her metal flour and sugar canisters, to her coffee percolator, to her Sunbeam blender and to the knives she has hanging on her wall. She was also a seamstress and had sewn together the aprons that we have wrapped around us in this picture.

When I was young and had scraped, bloody knees my mom swept me up, cleaned the wound, bandaged it and then held me tight to ease the pain. I like to think that perhaps my mom continues to care for me like that even after she is gone. Her spirit dwells inside of me and continues to comfort. She eased my open wound and pain from losing her with a bandage of love that can still be felt. Every year the excruciating pain of loss lessened and the love increased.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom…Jean Belle! I’ll love you forever!

What memories of your mom come to mind when you think of her on this special day? Answering these questions below about your mother will be a start to Keeping Your Memories of her preserved in writing so that she will forever be remembered. If you’re fortunate that your mother is still with you, ask her to answer these questions about her mother also.

  • What do you remember most about your mother’s appearance?
  • What sounds do you associate with your mother?
  • What was your favorite food that your mother cooked for you?
  • What pleasant smells do you associate with your mother?
  • What special touch do you associate with your mother?

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com

Jake (My Dad) The Tool Man

My husband and I went to a large-scale hardware store today to purchase an electric sander that we need so we can 2017-04-29 Dad and Nancy
repair a door on our garden shed and restore some kitchen furniture. When walking in this store, we stopped and took a wide-angle view of the store to see what direction we needed to go. When I saw a sales clerk, I walked up to him to ask where to find the sander. He pointed out to us where to go and once there we stared at the numerous sanders and tried to figure out which one we needed. After consulting a son-in-law who does more construction work than we do, we settled on the palm sander.

With today, April 29, being my father’s 91st birthday what better place for me to be but at a hardware store.  Dad has been gone for over ten years now. If he had been here, we would have called him to borrow one of his sanders. He seemed to be a tool collector, and he knew how to use everything and used it at least once. However, if he didn’t have what we needed, he would have met with us to help us.

Today also reminds me of the multiple times in my childhood in the 1960’s when I tagged along with Dad to the local hardware store in our town. Lindy’s Hardware on Kennedy Avenue in Hessville was his mainstay for purchasing supplies and tools when he was making something or doing home repairs.

Lindy's Ace Hardware in Hessville

The difference between the large-scale hardware store and this small corner hardware store was you never had to search for something on your own. At Lindy’s the men who worked there along with the owner, Lindy, would stand at the front door and greet the customers (often by name) as they came in, ask what they were looking for, and assist the customer in finding the minutest item to the largest item that he or she needed. They were always nice to me when I walked in with Dad. I loved the awesome smell of that store that this hardware store carried. I can’t quite describe it other than freshly cut wood. But I will never forget the smell of that store.

Dad had a workroom in the basement where he built shelves and hung pegboards to organize all of his tools, nails, screws and nuts and bolts and a place to use his table saw. He spent much of his retirement time building wood creations and teaching his grandchildren how to do the same. My children loved exploring and working in Papa’s workroom.

Today in memory of my father on his birthday we are not having cake. We are sanding furniture! He would be proud of us!

If your father or mother is gone, what special memories come to you on their birthday? Now is the time to open up your laptop or grab paper and pen and use the questions below to start Keeping Your Memories of what special memories you have of them. You can start with answering these questions:

  • What special ordinary place do you remember going to often with your mom or dad?
  • What kind of smell did it have? Can you still remember that smell?
  • How often did you get to go on a one-on-one errand with your mom and dad?
  • Was it special because you had multiple siblings and enjoyed having your mom or dad to yourself?
  • What is the recollection of the location?

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com