Ahh! We’ve made it to summer — the time of year when kids are on summer break from school, vacations happen, and families gather for picnics, reunions, weddings and graduations.
If you are fortunate enough to still have parents, aunts, uncles and maybe even grandparents living who are in their 80s or older, you have likely heard some family stories about how holidays used to be celebrated in “the good old days.” Or maybe they reminisced about a special time when there was a lot of excitement because of the weather, someone’s visit or a family crisis.
Often when we are younger and in our 20s and 30s, we don’t appreciate these stories as much as we should. Some of them we’ve heard a dozen times before. But for many, as we get into our 50s and 60s, we develop a new perspective on life, and these family stories become important. The problem is a lot of our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles have died, and with them go their memories, stories and our family history.
My father died 21 years ago. It will be 15 years next month since my mother died. Both were in their mid-80s. After my mother’s death, I felt a sense of urgency to capture as many of the old family stories as I possibly could. Lucky for me, my mom’s older brother and sister were both still alive and were still very with it. They each remembered events a little bit differently than the other, but their stories were very interesting.
Take time to listen
Listening to their stories and asking them questions provided a valuable link for me to my parents. My uncle and aunt could remember things that happened when I was young and when my parents were young, too. We all marveled at how much change each of them witnessed in their lifetimes, especially in agriculture.
We buried my Uncle Tom in 2010, just before his 90th birthday. My Aunt Marion died in 2014, just three weeks shy of her 95th birthday. Ten days before she died, I talked to her on the phone for more than an hour. I had called to share the news that my Uncle Tom’s first great-grandchild was born — a girl.
Aunt Marion spoke about visiting her own great-grandmother, who died in 1934 at the age of 95. She lived with her daughter and son-in-law. I asked my aunt if she liked visiting her great-grandmother and she replied, “No. Your mother, Tom and I had to sit in the middle of the room on the floor, and we weren’t allowed to touch anything because they were afraid we would break something!”
Ten days after that conversation, my aunt died on the same day, and in the same hospital, that her first great-grandchild — also a girl — was born. Although I am grateful for all the conversations I had over the years with my relatives and the opportunities to hear their stories, there are still a lot of questions I wish I could ask that I will never know the answers to.
Take time out of your busy summer to write down these stories, or better yet, record them. You, your children and your grandchildren will one day be glad you did.
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