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.

 

 

 

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

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

I Write. He Paints. We Preserve History.

I write. My brother paints. We are both preserving history.

Since the early 1960’s our parents took us to the Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, Indiana to play in the water and waves of Lake Michigan. We hiked the trails, explored the blow outs, climbed the sand dunes and conquered Mount Tom and Mount Baldy.

It was a place for us to roam freely with acres and acres of sand dunes vs our suburban neighborhood with houses built side-by-side.

On a cold day in 1967 while we explored the beach, my brother, Jacob, sat in the sand and made sketches of an abandoned cottage that still stood on the lakefront. He later created this painting. Shortly after, the cottage was demolished. All of the cottages that once stood are gone.

However, fifty years later the memory of this cottage remains as the picture hangs in my living room. And it preserves an era of cottages that were built one hundred years ago by owners who, like us today, relished their hours spent on this beautiful lakefront.

We don’t know the original owners or history of this specific cottage, but in the early 1900’s many folks from Chicago traveled to the Indiana side of Lake Michigan to enjoy a time of recreation at the Indiana Dunes.

It was so well-liked that eventually a group of Chicagoans incorporated the Prairie Club in 1911 and two years later built a beach house for members. Members would come to spend weekends and the summer and slept in tents.

Later in the 1910’s and 1920’s landowners began renting small parcels to these Chicago folks. Simple, inexpensive one story wooden cottages along the lakefront would be built on the rented parcels.

Alarmed by industrial sand mining destroying large areas of duneland and steel company land purchased, the Prairie Club members and others began a campaign to create a state park. The cause to preserve the Dunes began in 1916 and that campaign finally came to fruition in 1926 when the Dunes opened to the public as the Indiana Dunes State Park.

In 1966 with the drive of Illinois Senator Paul Douglas to save the dunes, the park was authorized as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. With perseverance from multiple groups the preservation of more land was granted.

The Indiana Dunes today stands at 15,000 acres. What I will remember of that extensive amount of land, because of my brother’s sketches and painting, is the small portion of land where a cottage was built and an unknown family or individual’s memories were made.

I have over fifty years of good memories made of experiences at the Indiana Dunes from my childhood and with my children and eventually with my grandchildren, and I have recorded my memories on paper.

Pull out your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of the Indiana Dunes or of your nature preserves for your descendants to read.

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com

 

 

 

Home Sweet Home

July 2002 160

Growing up in the 1960’s in this industrial area of Northwest Indiana we were accustomed to living in the smaller homes that were built within close proximity to neighbors. The busy stay-at-home moms and hardworking dads worked daily on the upkeep of these homes along with their children who were assigned weekly indoor and outdoor chores to help maintain their homes.

Being from the generation of baby boomers it was not unusual for families in our area to have large families ranging from two to twelve children while the majority of families that I knew had at least five children. In these small homes multiple siblings shared bedrooms and one bathroom. It was a matter of taking turns or squabbling over who was in line next to use the bathroom.

The gray home – my home – had four bedrooms, one and a half baths, mom and dad, four brothers, one sister and two dogs. The white house – my best friend’s house where I spent many days and nights – had four bedrooms, two baths, mom and dad, four brothers, three sisters and one dog.

We often reminisce how back in those days after our chores were completed, we were not kept inside the house but expected to go outside. Reflecting on it I imagine it was for the sanity of the stay at home moms to have some peace and quiet!

We were sent outside and told to be back home in time for lunch. In the afternoon we met up with our friends again and rode our bikes, jumped rope, played Hopscotch, Hide and Seek or Simon Says. My brothers and their friends often knew where to meet up to play sandlot baseball or football.

We always knew when to come back home for dinner. And in the summertime we were back outside again until dusk catching fireflies and playing Ding Dong Ditch or Kick the Can.

Even though the home I grew up in was small, the good memories created there were immeasurable. What do you remember about your childhood home? Pull out your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of the home or homes that you grew up in for your descendants to read of your childhood experiences.

  • What was the size of your home?
  • Did you have to share your bedroom?
  • Did you play at your homes, or mostly in the streets and playgrounds and fields?
  • Did you have chores around your house?
  • What was the proximity to your neighbors?

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com

Young Love

2016-01-10

Today my childhood best friend’s family hosted a 90th birthday celebration for their father. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this family for over 50 years and to share in today’s celebration. Mulling over what birthday gift to give to him, I decided a matted picture frame with a copy of their wedding picture and a condensed version of the love story that his wife, Margaret, had shared with me when I recorded her life story would be priceless…and it was! Next month they will celebrate their 66th anniversary and as shown in pictures from today, they are still in love!

Margaret’s recollection shared on June 11, 2011 of how she met and fell in love with a young man named Ed:

“It was 1949, about four years after the war ended, when a family with three girls and a boy moved just across the street from where we lived. They treated me nice, very nice …all of them. One of the sisters married somebody that knew this young man. Her husband had been in the service. But he had lived with his family in Hammond and lived close to where Ed had lived.

I and two of the sisters belonged to a Bunco Club and one night one of the ladies in the club started telling us about this guy who came back from service. She talked about his beautiful blue eyes.

At that time of my life I was a roller skater and often went roller skating with these sisters. I really enjoyed it very much. Several of the kids that roller skated often stopped to get a drink and would go home. And one night that’s how I happened to meet him.

I watched Ed, and I could tell what she meant about him and his beautiful blue eyes. She introduced us to each other, and we went on our first date to Teibel’s which was at that time in North Hammond.

He got a ring and gave it to me. I don’t think it was a whole lot of money. We were really wanting to get married, however, he wanted to make the last payment on his car before we got married. So we planned it that he made the last payment on the car, and I paid for the wedding license. We were married on February 11, 1950.”