Do you know when you’re going to die? Well, I don’t know the answer to that, for you, for others, for myself. But since I’m a storyteller from way back, here’s a story:
You know, my dad was lucky. Three months before he died, Dad sat in his living room watching four of his teen grandchildren gathered on the floor around him, reading chapters of his soon-to-be-published memoir. He and I had spent a number of weekends together over the previous several years, working together to help document his life lessons and experiences. I clarified details of stories that didn’t quite hold together, drawing out more information. The more he shared, the more he remembered other events. These were not the stories he’d shared with us when I was growing up. In fact, most were stories I was hearing for the first time in my life. Near the end of the project my sister gave me a box containing letters Dad had written to Mom, their courtship letters, the first written the day after he met her. With Dad’s blessing, many of the transcripts of those letters went into his book as well.
I watched as these beloved grandchildren vied for the next chapter of Grampie’s book. “Are you done yet?” one asked. “I haven’t seen that chapter,” said another, and after eagerly trading piles of manuscript with each other, silence resumed as they returned their focus to the typewritten pages. If you were an outsider you would have thought they’d gotten hold of a riveting best-seller.
After observing his grandchildren’s enthusiasm about his stories, Dad finally looked over at me, this quiet man who was always content to stay in the background while our more outgoing mother took the lead in their marriage. But Mom had been gone for many years. “You’re going to make a real book?” Dad asked me.
My heart filled almost to bursting as I smiled back at him. “Yeah, Dad, I am.”
Dad lived to see his book published, and was able to share it with those he loved. He could have said, “My life wasn’t very interesting,” or “Who would want to hear that?” but instead, when I asked him to share his stories, he simply said, “OK.”
It’s been a number of years since Dad died, but I cannot count the number of times I’ve turned to his book to clarify a date, confirm a family story, look up a family recipe, or check on where he lived when growing up in Minnesota. Thanks to his willingness to say “Yes,” my dad is now one of those “awesome ancestors” who shared important links from his past for children, grandchildren, and others to refer to in the years to come. He didn’t know when he was going to die. But we were lucky….
Are you still lucky enough to have loved ones who can share their stories? Have you shared your own? It’s not too late to become an “awesome ancestor.” Please don’t wait, give me a call.
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! On the board of directors of the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com