Friday, March 27, 2009

Memories are made of this

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that I have a strong interest in history and in family. I do strongly believe that "past is prologue" and that we can learn important lessons from those who have gone before us. And I also get a thrill from being in a place, or touching something, that has been seen or held by ancient hands.

I'm fortunate that both my mother and her father left written life stories, filled with details about life "back in the olden days." It gives me a sense of who they were and what life was like in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during the Great Depression, World War II, and also sends me reminiscing about my own childhood. As a second-generation Floridian (although I no longer live there), I know that my own brain holds memories of Florida as it used to be - before Disney, NASA, and the Army Corps of Engineers got their hands on it! Those who came later, including my own children, have no way to experience the sleepy small-town atmosphere of Tampa, where I was born, or Miami - where I spent 26 years - prior to the great influx of refugees and the orgy of glitter and glamour that permeates the city now.

Jim, my dear partner, is native to the Northwest and has stories of logging, firefighting, hunting (he and his friends have hunted in the same location for almost 50 years!), white water rafting in areas that now require permits - Jim was there when there were no other rafters - and old growth trees that were so huge just one tree would fill a logging truck! He remembers our now-busy city before the interstate highway, when nearly all Oregonians were natives, and when the salmon runs were abundant in Northwest rivers.

In other words, Jim and I both have stories to tell of times that are no more. To us, they were just life and seem to have no special need to be recorded. But I remind myself often that my mother's and grandfather's lives must have seemed just as mundane to them and yet they had the foresight to know that those times deserved to be remembered. They took the time to write down those things - with pen and paper; no word processors for them! - so that future generations would know what had come before, from the viewpoint of those who had lived it.

Each of us has a unique story to tell, even those who don't think we do - like Jim. And I think - although not everyone shares this opinion - that we have a responsibility to future generations to leave a record of those stories. If you're inclined (and I hope you are) Story Corps has some information and help. And an online search for "oral history project" will give you links to some specialized oral history sites such as Vietnam Veterans, AIDS survivors, and a number of other organizations.

Each generation moves inevitably from making history to being history, and the only way future generations have to know our path is through our words. I hope you'll think about filling in some of the blanks for your family!


  1. Great suggestion and how fortunate your parents had the foresight to record their memories. The older I become, the more I'm interested in that which came before me. More interesting to get a glimpse into the past when it comes from a relative!

  2. I feel thankful that my parents bought me my first journal at the age of 5. I remember the trip we took to Portland and that I felt like something special was happening. I chose a fabric covered, line journal wih a blue floral pattern on it. The first half of the book is covered in stick figure drawings and misspelled words like MOMY and DADY as I practiced writing, and as I grow up a little throughout the book, I make lists of what I got for Christmas, or how much I hated my little brother. These stories are priceless.

    I have a small trunk filled with close to 30 journals filed with my thoughts, logs of the day, heartaches, joys and dark periods of my life.

    These, even more so than my picture albums, are my most treasured possessions, and would be the first thing I'd grab before heading out the door in a house fire.

    Thought parts of them are embarrassing, and worse, devastating to read (I almost can't bear the thought of my children and family reading them someday), I'm so happy they will have these pieces of me when I'm gone.