When my son asked me to tell him about my childhood, I felt like someone had tossed me into a turbulent rolling tunnel where numerous images bombarded me. My mind went blank, but at the same time I had flashes of people, places and events, but nothing I could concentrate on and tell him about.
I vaguely remembered asking my father the same question before his 80th birthday, and he gave a general response. It was then that my two sisters and I decided to hire a local woman who did legacies and have her interview Dad to get his background. She spent several days and hours asking him about his life, which she recorded and later made several copies of the tape—one for each of us.
Dad has been gone for over 20 years, but through listening to the tape (which I often do,) I hear his voice relating the stories of his life. It’s gratifying and heartwarming to hear his voice tell his stories.
Shortly after Dad’s passing, I decided to record the stories of my husband’s life as a legacy for our children and a memory for me. My children suggested I do the same for me, so they’d have a complete picture of their parents. That led to interviewing other family members and friends, and before long I started a small business of capturing legacies.
At this point you may ask, “Why is capturing a personal memoir so important?” Unlike our ancestors who gathered around the kitchen table, or on the front porch to share personal stories, our families live apart in different areas and often don’t see each other for several years. Many children today know little to nothing about their parents or grandparents. Therefore, it’s important to record family history for future generations so they’ll know and understand their background.
As you look to the past to prepare for the future, digging up your own memories is rewarding–it allows you to recall pleasant (and perhaps not so pleasant) stories that you may have forgotten. It allows you to reflect on your own life and is fun to do!
Many people keep a journal to write what’s going on in their lives, but details are missing and the vocal element is not there. Now that I’m at Country Meadows, I formed a resident program called “Remember When…” in which I provide “triggers” that help bring memories to the surface that were lost long ago and now can be shared.
Some of the triggers I’ve used might help you recall your memories. It’s best to let your body and mind relax so you can concentrate on reliving the memory. Some triggers include:
- Places—Think about where you lived, visited, special rooms in your house, your garden, a hiding place, school room, etc.
- Events and Celebrations —What do you recall about holidays, birthdays, weddings, vacations, etc.? What were the traditions you observed?
- People —Who were all the people you encountered along the way including family members, teachers, friends, co-workers, neighbors?
- Experiences—Reminisce about events that were happy, funny, scary, humiliating, exciting and so on. Determine which subject you want to focus on and proceed to flesh out the details.
- Family Legends—Travel back in time and attempt to recall family jokes, vacations, songs, traditions, games and events.
- Childhood—Do you still remember your neighbors, friends, school, illnesses or even your chores? How about girl/boyfriends, dates, first car, etc.?
Now the hard part…how to get started? Here are some suggestions to get you going:
- Relaxation and Imagery – Sit in a comfortable chair, feet on the floor, hands relaxed and in your lap. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply in and out. Mentally tell yourself to “Relax now.” Mentally count backward from 5 to 0 and “walk” into the topic you wish to recall.
- Self-Interview – Prepare a list of questions you want answered and decide which one to focus on. Sit in a room free from distractions, get comfortable and mentally ask yourself the question. Give yourself time to think and respond to it. When the question is answered, jot down your recollection.
- Prompts – Jewelry, photographs, a memento, or article of clothing can trigger memories. Hold the object in your hands and lightly rub your fingers over it as you study it from all sides. Ask yourself questions. “How was it obtained?” “Who gave it to you?” “What was the occasion?” “What was the significance of the person who gave it to you?” “How did you feel when you received it?”
Other sources that might help you remember are diaries and letters from family members, wills, legacies, family photo albums, home movies or stories that have been handed down.
These suggestions and examples are by no means complete, but at least they’ll give you a place to start. Finding memories takes a long time and doesn’t happen in one sitting. After you’ve retrieved one memory, write it down and file it in a folder or notebook. When you’ve exhausted your supply, decide what you want to do with memories. Do you want to tell them to other family members or friends? Write an essay or detailed journal? Create a book based on your life?
Whether telling or writing your story, remember, it is YOUR STORY –you can embellish it, add dialogue to it, or do whatever you wish. The important thing is that you share your story with members of your family.
Enjoy the journey into the past. Your family will cherish your memories and, hopefully, will continue, adding their own personal stories to create a full oral history for generations to come.