We--family and friends--sat around tables at my grandmother's 90th birthday. Most were enjoying cake, punch, and conversation. One woman, sitting alone, attracted our attention. My children and I carried our cake plates over and sat alongside her. She was delighted.
We introduced ourselves. She told us how she knew Grams. Then I asked,
"Tell us something about your life."
And she did.
"I was an Olympic runner with Wilma Rudolph."
I wasn't too sure I believed her--you know, memory care and all. However, after talking, the story became clear and I was convinced. The kids marveled and asked questions--all the important whys, wheres, whens, whats, and hows. After our new friend finished her cake, she insisted we wait at the table while she went to her apartment.
She had something to show us.
Fifteen minutes later, she walked in the room with a photo album and an Olympic torch! No kidding! She sat back down at the table, opened up the album and pointed to a yellowed newspaper clipping of her standing alongside Wilma.
We asked more questions, just like we had in our conversations with Grammy.
These women were living history--memoirs--testimonies of real-life, real moments in time.
My grandmother celebrated 95 birthdays in her life. In our times together, she shared memories of her childhood, her family, her hobbies, and of times in history she experienced first-hand. She lived through the Great Depression, WWII, the Kennedy Era, the invention of many modern conveniences. She remembers events well, better than most of us on any given day.
She holds within her, a living history, of our world and of our family.
Several years ago, my then seven-year-old daughter questioned the age of her great-grandmother and made an insightful comment as we studied the Great Depression.
“We must ask Grammy about her experiences during the Great Depression. She might be the only person left alive that we can talk to about living during that time.”
Ah, yes child, you understand the importance of passing down stories.
Every person has stories and each of us can be story tellers, story bearers, regardless of our age. Stories connect generations; the stories we long to hear, the stories our hearts need to hear.
When you have opportunity to visit with someone, particularly someone with age and experience, consider the stories they might share. They will likely be eager to share and you may learn something no one else could share.
Questions to ask:
- Where and when were you born?
- Did you have brothers and sisters? Were they younger or older than you?
- Tell me about the house in which you grew up.
- What activities did you enjoy as a child?
- What do you remember about your parents or grandparents?
- Did you go to church? Tell me about the church you attended.
- Did you have a favorite book? Who read to you?
- Tell me about your school.
- What was your favorite subject in school?
- Did you have any pets?
- Did you play a musical instrument?
- What was your favorite type of music? What were some of your favorite songs?
- What did you enjoy doing? Did you have any hobbies?
- Who were your friends? What did you enjoy doing together?
- What is your favorite childhood memory?
- What was your favorite food?
- How much did a hamburger and fries cost?
- Did you have a job? At which age did you start working?
- Tell me about your first car.
- How much did your first car cost?
- Did you marry?
- If so, how did you meet your spouse? What did you enjoy doing together?
- Tell me about the proposal.
- Did you have children? How many? What were their names?
- Did you travel? Where did you visit?
- Did you serve in the military? Where and when did you serve? What do you remember about your service?
- What inventions do you remember and how did they impact your life?
- Have you ever been to a World's Fair? Which one? What was it like?
- What historical events do you remember?
- Did you belong to any organizations or clubs?
- Was there someone who strongly impacted or changed your life?
How does what I experienced with that dear Olympic runner, my grandmother, and others impact me and my family? Today, I will purpose to tell at least one personal story to my children, one with which they might better understand their heritage and their world.