Saturday, January 17, 2009

Telling Our Stories

Memories... like the corners of my mind
Misty, water-colored memories of the way we were...

My family is fortunate to have several archivists and memoirists (did I just make up another word?). Nearly two decades ago, my cousin Shonnie put me in touch with Marian, a first cousin of my grandfather, who had been compiling a family tree for many years. We were delighted to share details of our branch, in return for her sharing all her research to date. This is how I learned we are one of the few Jewish families that can boast both a rodeo clown and a Catholic priest! Okay, maybe the only one.

Inspired by her legwork, my mother, cousin and I compiled a brief family history that went back much further than we would have been able without Marian's contribution. It was wonderful to be able to include a few stories from my grandfather's brother, Uncle Lee. We printed about 50 copies and I know the grandchildren, especially, really appreciate them.

My mom wrote a second book, "Snippets," that included more memories, more pictures, and recipes from her mother, Grandma Sophie, a much-respected cook, baker and professional caterer. I think we printed 80 books so that Mom could give some to her friends. We should have printed twice as many. Both of these little books will be treasured forever, and I'm delighted that my mother has started writing again; another cherished heirloom is on the way. I doubt this blog is heirloom quality, but I'm having fun remembering, and sharing my memories.

My point is this: start writing. Now. All of you. You are the only one who can tell your stories. You are the only person who has your memories, your context, your experiences. And once you are gone, so are your stories, the sum of your life... unless you have made the effort to share them. And include your pictures, your recipes, your songs and poems. You don't have to be a great writer. In fact, you don't even have to write. Get a little tape recorder and record your memories. Someone can transcribe them later. If you don't know how to get started, here are two brilliant books that will take you gently by the hand: To Our Children's Children by Bob Greene (the Chicago columnist, not Oprah's trainer). I know that one is at most libraries. A little more scarce but at least as valuable is Family Histories by Nancy Penga. (Family Histories Publishing, 137 Bates Ave., St. Paul MN 55106. Phone 612.774.5015)

Don't be greedy: share your stories. And don't even think about editing yourself. "Oh, no one is interested." Yes, we are!


Michelle said...

how fantastic! My grandpa did some tape recordings before he passed away, and they are priceless. It was so wonderful to hear his voice again. My grandma isn't much for writing, so every now and then we get her on video, telling the stories we love to hear...

La Cootina said...

A video - brilliant! Even better than a tape recorder. And each generation will appreciate it more and more.