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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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

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

 

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

He Has Run a Good Race

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Mr. and Mrs. Stephens

One week ago today Mr. Stephens passed at the age of 91. He was…is…always will be…the father of Carol, my BFF since 1965. 91 years old. That is a long life, and it is easier to accept the passing of a loved one who has lived a long and fulfilling life. But I still mourn. And perhaps it is a selfish mourning. I miss being the child and being loved and cared for by not only my parents but also other elders in my life.

On Sunday, five days before he passed, I went to visit Carol and her family to celebrate Mrs. Stephens’ 90th birthday and to say goodbye to Mr. Stephens. I don’t believe at any time with all the days, nights, hours that I spent at that home did I ever go into her parents’ bedroom until that day.

In these 52 years, I have never seen him lying down asleep. But that Sunday I saw this 91-year-old man in his well-worn body laying in drug induced subdued pain. For the first time, I stood over him. For the first time when I spoke to him, he couldn’t respond to me. For the first time in 52 years, I gently kissed him on his forehead when I said my last good-bye.

On my drive home that day I reminisced about my past and how enjoyable it was because of the wonderful people that I had in my life.

As a young child, life was simple. I played outside. I rode my Schwinn banana seat bike without a helmet down the middle of the side streets. On rainy days I played board games and watched TV. I walked by myself to school. I ate whatever my mother fixed that day for dinner. I shopped for frivolous luxuries on my weekly $1.00 allowance.

In the 1960’s it was not unusual that my friends shared bedrooms with multiple siblings as it was common to have four to seven siblings per family.  There were even a few families in school that had twelve siblings. And many siblings had friends within the same families. My four brothers all had a close friend from Carol’s family also.

The majority of my friend’s mothers were housewives who devoted the majority of their time to managing a tribe of children and overseeing the maintenance of the home that was infested with their children and their children’s friends coming in and out of the doors continuously throughout the day.

But our childhood was enjoyable because our fathers, like Mr. Stephens, and many of the fathers of my childhood friends, provided for us and set an example before our generation of being hard-working individuals who grew up during the Great Depression.  They knew the struggles of poverty and knew it was possible to do better in life with hard work and determination. They knew how to make life better for their children and through all of this they taught by example to work diligently.

This past Monday Mr. Stephen’s wife, children, grandchildren and great children gathered along with extended family and friends to celebrate his life. His grandchildren shared how he impacted their lives with his patience and wisdom along with his willingness to teach, to help, and to love.

A portion of his obituary read:  “He was a 1943 graduate of Hammond Tech High School. After graduation, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served on the USS Kingfish submarine during World War II in the Pacific Theater, as a Torpedoman Second Class. After the War, he served on the USS Atule submarine in the Arctic Ocean, finished his tour on the USS Toro, and was honorably discharged in 1947. Upon returning, he began working for local steel mills, and retired from Bethlehem Steel after over 40 years in the steel industry. He was an avid runner, running in the Chicago Marathon in 1979 at age 53. Ed also enjoyed fishing, camping, boating, water skiing, and traveling coast to coast with his wife and children to see other family and friends.”

Mr. Stephens was also a second father to many. I am so thankful for the kindness and patience he has always shown to me my entire life. He has impacted my life and taught by example. May I only do the same for my children and grandchildren as he has done for his.

What childhood memories do you have of your friend’s parents? Preserving the legacies of these important people will prevent them from ever being forgotten and future descendants will enjoy reading about your childhood.

Pull out your laptop and grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of someone who impacted your life as a child.

 

 

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

 

 

 

Practice Makes P-E-R-F-E-C-T

2017-01-21

My mother passed away eight years ago yesterday and my favorite memory of her concentrated on her love of words and the game of Scrabble. She often challenged family members and loved to win.

She enjoyed playing Scrabble and kept an “official” Scrabble dictionary to settle word challenges. She loved to be competitive and would challenge both her adult children and grandchildren. She often played competitively with many two letter words that would rake in high points.

After she died I found well worn papers with coffee cup stains on them showing at some time she had perused a dictionary and copied two to three letter words that she could use which proves she actually studied to win.

That was one of Mom’s life lessons that she taught us by example… If you want to be good at something, you have to work hard behind the scenes to learn how to accomplish the goal and continually practice to make yourself better.

This memory and others of my mother have been written and recorded for my children and grandchildren to read after I am gone. If I hadn’t preserved the memories of my mother, she would have been forgotten.

Preserving the legacies of your parents will prevent them from ever being forgotten and future descendants will be able to read these life stories and understand their family heritage. Pull out your laptop and grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of your parents starting with the following questions:

  • In what ways are you like your parent(s)?
  • What did you enjoy doing with your parent(s)?
  • What was your proudest moment of your parent(s)?
  • What was the most valuable lesson you learned from your parent(s)?
  • What is the one thing you most want people to remember about your parent(s)?

http://www.keepingyourmemories.com