Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Oral History Promoted @Starbucks?

I will not divulge locations or calories consumed, but I happen to work in a library that has its own Starbucks attached to the backside. As my co-workers and I have been frequenting this establishment quite regularly lately due to that marvelous concoction, Peppermint Hot Chocolate, we took notice of this year's new Christmas slogan: Stories are Gifts - Share. Oral History is one of my side passions and I was thrilled to see this reminder to the masses that some of our most precious historical and cultural gifts are oral traditions and memories - but only if we share them! So, as the Holiday season encroaches upon us, and we attend gathering after gathering, try to get your family to share as many memories as possible! Even if you have no recording device, quickly jot things down as they were repeated as soon as you get home.....I did just that on one special Christmas back in 2002.

My Grandfather, the one seen in the previous post with all of his military medals, and seen below in his Christmas glory days back in the 80s, was 91 years old in 2002 and recently diagnosed with cancer. He was weak, but still strong in his own way, and this was the last Christmas we all spent at my Grandparents' house. The following Christmas we spent at my Aunt's and then on Christmas Day 2004, Grandpa made his final journey home at 93.

Grandpa had a few photo albums from his youth that I had scanned the previous year to have my own copies. However, when I scanned them and talked to him about them, he didn't seem interested at all in talking about the people in the album. If you asked about the Wars, that was a different story....he would proudly talk all day to anyone who would listen. It was odd to me that he would not talk about this side of his family and the many unidentified people in it, but I thought that to be a lost cause and kept the scans as my only tie to his background.

I have always felt that Christmas was a magical time of year. Regardless of how religious your beliefs about this season, you cannot deny that people act differently during Christmas. That Christmas in 2002 was a brief magical moment that allowed me to document some of our family's past.

As everyone had gone home and a few lingered upstairs talking to Grandma, I stayed downstairs with Grandpa in the family room just chit-chatting and photographing some of that old album again to practice reproduction with various light sources. He was watching my progress and when I brought it over to him to ask him about someone, he took the album and put it in his lap. I quietly pulled up a small chair and sat next to him as he walked me through the album, pointing out people he knew and telling me stories about his parents and extended family that none of us had ever heard before. I had no recording device save my own memory, but as soon as I got home, I wrote down every story he told me in his words as I remember him telling it. That type of memory recollection is not the best way to preserve important family stories, but beggars cannot be choosers, and since each of his little stories were short, my recollection abilities were able to retain everything until I could get home.

As magical as that memory is for me, I learned a few things: If you are forced to record a story from memory, write it down AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, the more time that elapses, the more details you lose - Never take an opportunity for granted, any family gathering is precious and could be the last one for a loved one in the room - Do not wait for a recording device as some relatives of advanced years can sense those things from a mile away, and balk at the idea. Besides, passing on family stories orally is a tradition as old as humanity itself - Don't knock the tried and true! One last tip: buy a nice quality journal to keep handy in case a relative starts telling a story that you cannot capture via device. I kept one during my years with both sets of Grandparents and I still use it when I hear a family story I want to make sure I remember.

So take Starbucks' advice and SHARE the gift of memories! Oh and BTW, their peppermint hot chocolate has been unanimously declared "Christmas in a cup" by the library ladies in my department.



Michelle Goodrum said...

I have to admit, I had tears in my eyes while I read this one. You had one of those once in a lifetime opportunities!

I had an opportunity years ago to gather family stories from my husband's grandmother. I still have the original notes I wrote while she told them to me and when I read them I can actually hear her voice speaking those words written so long ago.

Cheri Daniels said...

Michelle, you are so right! Since I wrote the stories down that way, and also the same way with the stories from my other Grandfather, I can hear each one's voice in my head when I read them again. It is like a special memory, that only the keepers of the stories will be able to enjoy. The future generations will get the stories, but will not be able to hear the voices as we can....kind of like our bonus to treasure.


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