Since I was a young girl I always loved hearing stories of people’s lives. It didn’t have to be my own family, it could be anyone. I can remember visiting an elderly women who lived down the street from us, Mrs Gallagher. She was in her late 70’s or 80’s when me and my girlfriends befriended her. She was from Ireland and would tell us stories of her Catholic school days and the trouble she got into. She would talk about her son (her daughter-in-law passed away, cancer I believe) and twin grandson’s. I think they both were writer’s and lived in “the city”-Manhattan. She was rather short and bit hunched-over women with arthritic hands. At first glimpse, some young girls might be a little leery of her, but each and everyone of us loved her and she captivated us with her story-telling. Sometimes if we had nothing else to do, we would would knock on her door and she welcomed us into her home. She always made us some tea and she poured herself a spot of sherry, then the stories unfolded. As she got older and we got older we lost touch, but she gave each one of us a teacup. I remember they were part of a set and we were able to pick out the color we wanted. I still have mine, it is pink.
I also had a deep desire to learn about my family and where everyone came from. It was important to me to know who was who, where they were born, how many siblings, who was the oldest, who they married, when they left for America or who stayed in Norway. I would write things down and tuck them away so I wouldn’t forget. I also enjoy learning about my in laws and their families and the who’s and when and where.
Now that my parents are aging, it is a bit more imperative to hear the stories since there remains few historians of the past. It makes me sad to think that family history might be lost in one generation. When I’m together with my parents and family what I like most is to talk about when they grew up or the past generations. I feel a sense of obligation and desire to learn anything I can and hear the stories that made up ones life. I also believe it is healthy for my parents to reach into their past, stir their memory and reflect on different places and time. It’s also fascinating to capture the emotion that is wrapped around the memory and recognize that there are things from the past that influenced who they became and subsequently who I became.
Over the years, I have been given all kinds of things from photographs to furniture from various people such as: parents, grandparents, in-laws, friends and even strangers. All these “things” have little meaning if the story behind them remains unknown. If we don’t share stories of the past, they’ll be lost forever. The possessions that were passed down can be a catalyst to a story, otherwise it is just stuff; stuff that is no different than something bought at HomeGoods. These treasures are another part of story-telling. A teacup is just a teacup unless you know that it was a gift from an elderly Irish women. It was given to me in the 1970’s, when I was a little girl, while she shared her life-stores with me and my friends. Now the little pink teacup has a new meaning and perhaps, added-value.
Writing a book requires much research, investigation and digging for information so pieces can be woven together to create the story. As we know, eyewitness or first-hand account is always a tremendous source of information. So before it is too late, we should sit down, turn off the TV and share stories. Family gathering’s could take on a whole new meaning if we reminisced and shared stories of our lives, growing up, what we did, and share what we know of those who came before us. Maybe even reminisce about a family cruise or a family reunion across the sea, you don’t necessarily have to go back too far.
As we approach the holiday season, maybe it’s worth considering doing some story telling. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to gather and give thanks but consider making it a time you share stories. I bet the younger generation would get a kick out of hearing some old stories and I know I would love to hear and learn more about the past and generations that share our history.