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.

 

 

 

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

Mom – I’ll Love You Forever

2016-01-20

My mom is gone but her memories are still with me. It was in 1985. I was at Mom’s home with the plan to record some of her stories using a cassette tape recorder. When I arrived, she was in her usual place…the kitchen. She was fixing lunch for dad and once all was prepared and Dad was settled, we went into the living room and Mom shared about her childhood in the 1930’s, her parents, her siblings and Dad.

In 1985 her mother…my grandmother…had been gone for seven years. And today, January 20, 2016 my mother has been gone for seven years. Just as my heart and writings are filled with memories of my mother, she too had her heart filled with memories of her mother. I now understand how my mother felt with the love she had for her mom. Today Grandma would be 118 years old and Mom would be 88 years old.

She shared, “Mom made our clothes and our coats.  She also worked and did housekeeping for the Elder’s and Smith’s in Webb City, Missouri.  And people would give her their old coats, and she would make them into coats for us.  And she made really nice coats.  She would use scraps to make quilts, and she would put them together with yarn…comforters.  She would use flannel sheeting for the underneath side.

She’d still be working when I got home from school.  I don’t know how old I was when she started working at the Miller Manufacturing Shirt Factory in Joplin, Missouri.  It might have been while I was in grade school.

When she came home from work, I didn’t often show her what I had done at school that day, but when I was in the fifth grade I started learning fractions.  Every night we’d sit down there, and I had to teach her what I learned.  I taught her how to use fractions because she had to use fractions at work, and she didn’t know them.

We did a lot of spelling too at home.  Mama liked words, and she needed to learn it for herself.  It wasn’t that she spent time with us, but she needed to learn it for herself; it was more for her sake.  She was only able to go to school through third grade. But it was good because we both learned more that way.  The spelling must have been just because she enjoyed it.  But maybe she was learning too.”

It is delightful to read how despite Grandma’s formal education ended when she was nine years old, it never stopped her desire to learn. And I’m delighted that my mother recorded these memories.  Now is the time to pull out your laptop or grab paper or pen and start Keeping Your Memories of your mother.

  • What are your earliest memories with your mother?
  • How much education did your mother complete and where did she attend?
  • Was she a stay-at-home mother or did she work outside the home?
  • Did your mother have a favorite saying you can remember him repeating?
  • What do you realize about your mother’s life that you didn’t understand when you were growing up?

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

A Time I Can’t Remember

2015-12-28

I have been an adult orphan for the past seven years. Yesterday Mom (who passed in January 2009) and Dad (who passed in 2007) were on my heart and in my thoughts while spending a wonderful day celebrating my birthday with my husband, daughter and sons. I especially missed my mom. Even yesterday, with her passing almost seven years ago, I cried and I missed her.

I was mulling over how Mom must have felt the day that she was in labor and gave birth to me. I wish she had recorded in writing when she started having her contractions and the entire experience. Was Dad home to take her to the hospital? What did it feel like at that time to give birth and not have Dad with her during the delivery as was the typical case at that time? How did she feel delivering her fifth child? I would have loved reading today what her dreams for me were that day.

As a mother myself, I can easily envision my thirty-one year old mother holding me, kissing me, and loving me. Being born two days after Christmas Mom always told me that I was the best Christmas present she ever received. They were delighted to have a daughter added to their family of four sons.

I do have pictures (and Dad bought colored film for these pictures) of Mom and Dad holding me when I was an infant fifty-six years ago. And I’m also fortunate to have a copy of our silent 8 mm home movie (converted to a DVD) that my dad taped on Christmas Eve of Mom when she was nine months pregnant with me. She looked young and slim, other than her stomach, and she was admiring the homemade gifts that her sons (ten, eight, six and three years old) had made for her.

With the holiday season we miss our loved ones even more. And I felt it yesterday on my birthday. But I still had a terrific day because I feel my mom is with me wherever I go. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her. With the cycle of life I also had a new generation, my adult children, to spend time with and enjoy life.

Now is the time to start Keeping Your Memories of the day that your child was born because that is one day that he or she will not remember! Pull out your laptop or grab paper and pen and record in writing the emotional experience you had that day. One day your child and his or her descendants will cherish reading your memories you have on this special day.

  • When did you start having contractions?
  • Did you deliver the infant at home or at a hospital?
  • Who took you to the hospital and what was the story behind the transportation?
  • Share the emotional feelings you felt when you saw your infant for the first time.
  • What prayers or wishes did you have for this newborn child?

 

 

Balloons and Butterflies – A Tribute to Delainey Belle

2015-10-16

It was October 16, 2012. I will never forget that day. I was at work and was rushing to wrap things up because I was leaving early to attend the Association of Personal Historian conference in St. Louis that week. Unexpectedly, I received the phone call from my nephew that afternoon that I will never forget.

My twenty-three month old grandniece had left us. Christy and Tim’s daughter, Delainey Belle, was born on November 15, 2010 with Trisomy 18.  This chromosomal condition was diagnosed before her birth. They were told that it is a fatal condition with most of the babies dying before birth and those who do make it to birth typically live only a few days. And less than ten percent of babies with Trisomy 18 live at least one year.

Delainey Belle had been defying the odds given her. As time passed and her extensive care had all been put in place, her mom eventually returned to work. But fortunately on this day her mom was scheduled off. She loved Delainey Belle to the moon and back and was with her from her first breath to her last.

That day I went on to the conference and while hearing the importance of preserving priceless life stories, I was inspired to create a memorial book for Delainey’s short life. At dinner that night I shared with fellow personal historians about this precious child and was given suggestions on how to create it. I left the conference early to attend the wake and funeral.

The tributes started pouring in from family and friends. It was amazing to read the tributes of how Delainey Belle touched so many lives. The most common words used in everyone’s writings were: love, thankful, blessing, smiles, hope, and inspiration. We easily found pictures of everyone holding Delainey and smiling at her and was able to match them with their tribute. The love was shown in those pictures with the eye contact Delainey shared with all who met her.

Christy wrote this poem and read it at the funeral:

Delainey Speaks

Even though you think you shouldn’t,

Laugh anyway, it makes me smile.

Even though you can’t carry a tune,

Sing anyway, it calms me.

Even though you think you can’t,

Try anyway, I always did.

Even though people say you won’t,

Do anyway, I proved them wrong.

Even though you may have obstacles,

Overcome them, I was able.

Even though you have tears,

Shed them anyway, I had to.

Even though you think you can’t,

Live anyway, I did.