Tuesday, October 23, 2012

collecting stories

If I am looking for a project, I have to look no further than the shelf of unfinished projects or the To Do list. I do have one that has been collecting virtual dust for a while - an unfinished project, a work in progress… more like an idea in progress, one that I pick up every now and then, one that is important to me - collecting and preserving family stories.

On the news just last night - a boy scout is going into retirement homes and taking down the stories of WWII veterans, stories that would soon be lost forever, his project is called Voices from the Front.

And yesterday I saw this book advertised online - the author took old photographs and made up stories about them. This is an interesting idea, we have boxes of old photos, some of them we have no idea who the people are, just like this author - he actually went out and bought vintage family photos being sold at yard sales etc. for his project.

Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past 
 by Ransom Riggs

But back to my project.  I don't want to make up stories, I want to get the real stories and write them down and pass them around and pass them down.  The folks I want to ask are getting older all the time, so this project has a time limit, and if I am to get it done, I need to get on it! 

Family stories, so easy to listen to, so easy to solicit with just a question, so easily lost over time, memories fade, older ones pass on, and their stories die with them.

My parents are gone, and with them went the opportunity to hear their stories.  My mom had a good one about traveling to Japan on a big ship full of crying babies… and I would love to hear the story about my dad's mom who saved her butter and egg money to move off the farm and buy a house in town.  And if only I could hear some stories from my dad about a lifetime traveling around the world in the army, I am sure there were many experiences that would be entertaining and important to us kids.

I have told a few family stories already here on this blog, about my family, my parents - the one about Gone With the Wind, about moving to LA, about moving to the mountains, about the lone start quilt. 

Buddy and his side of the family have great stories, and their stories are the ones I want to get down now, while he and his two sisters are still coherent enough to tell them, and they are always funny.

In February of this year I quizzed by two sisters-in-law about the maid they had way back in the 1950s in Atlanta.

This subject was of course prompted by the book The Help… which I had read, and as I was sharing the story with Buddy, he said (out of the blue), "We had a black maid."  

Say what?  I couldn't believe it, I had known and been a part of this family for over 40 years and this little tidbit of history had never come up before?  He didn't remember much about her, told me to ask his older sisters.  So on a girls trip to a Lady Vols game back in February, I cornered, I mean asked nicely, my two sisters-in-law about the maid.  Melissa was part of my plan and had her recorder ready to go.   

It was easy to get them to talk as we gathered around the table at Dunkin Donuts.  There with us were 5 of our kids.  As we gathered around the table, the stories flew and the next generation received a gift, a chance to see their parents and long-gone grandparents in another time.   

So what to do with these stories?  Maybe make a book, using vintage family photos to go along with the stories...

Kay (the eldest) started it off:  

Her name was Mae Johnson.  I remember coming home from school one day and finding her in the kitchen…  


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