For the last five months, my job has been to talk to people and write their stories. Some of them have been easy to get. I asked one or two questions and off they went. Others have had a hard time remembering details — and just about everybody had a hard time with dates. Occasionally, there has been a son, daughter or spouse around to help jog the memories and fill in where there are gaps. But there have also been a lot of moments when they said, “I didn’t know that.”
Imagine if we weren’t gathering these stories. They would be lost. You might think your story doesn’t matter so much. It’s not that interesting anyway. Well, if you’ve been following along on my journey, you should have noticed that every story is interesting. It may take a little unraveling to get things in order and get to the good parts, but everybody has something worth sharing.
A few years ago I was cleaning out my mother’s house after she moved down to the farm — now there’s a story for you, I’ll tell it one of these days. Somehow her house had become the place where everyone — aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. — stored all their stuff.
I learned things that I never knew about my cousin who had recently passed. She had a wicked sense of humor and a button collection to match. She collected incredibly ugly dolls for a reason I’ll never know — I wish I could have had a chance to ask.
I also came across one aunt’s journals from when she first started teaching more than 50 years ago. She wrote about her family and what it was like to live away from the farm where she’d spent her entire life. There are years of these. She wants us to burn them, but they are a treasure trove of memories.
These journals are how I know that when I was born, my brother’s reaction was, “Baby sister! I already got one of those.”
And the pictures! We went through piles and piles of pictures. Some of them had names on the back, most didn’t. We put them all in boxes so they’d be together and “someday” we’d go through them and figure out who is who. Spoiler alert: it’s been four years, they are still in those boxes.
The thing is, since that time, three of my aunts and uncles have died. The parts of the story that they knew are gone forever.
Write your story down, or get a voice recorder and just talk about your childhood and your experiences out in the world — even if your world feels pretty small and uninteresting. I promise, there are nuggets of great stuff in there.
If you don’t know where to start, get out an old photo album and see where the memories take you. There are also books out there designed to get your ideas flowing. They’re kind of like baby books, where you write down milestones and memories so you won’t forget them — at least for your first child. While you’re at it, maybe get out those baby books from your second or third child and see how much of that blank space you can fill in.
Write your family’s story. Take that voice recorder with you — or use the one on your phone — next time you visit an older relative. You may think you’ve heard their stories 50 times, but there are details that you may not remember in 10 years once they’re gone.
Write your kids’ story. One of mine used to mess up, “Please, may I be excused from the table?” in the most adorable way — but I can’t for the life of me remember what he actually said.
I do know that all dinosaurs were “bites” and one flat, purple, stuffed dino was named “Bite Movie” because we wrote the animals’ names on their tags.
Poor Bite Movie got lost in the great hot chocolate debacle of 1999. That’s another story I need to get on paper, along with the paint one and the marshmallow fluff one and the poop one — all similar stories with varying degrees of outrage and cleaning effort, including one dresser that never recovered.
Write down your story — it matters.
What matters to you?