“KEEPERS OF OUR CULTURE”
by Joyce Krieg (January 2, 2015 Issue)
Over the long Christmas weekend, I had the opportunity to treat myself to my all-time favorite hike. After an uphill ramble of a mile or so through a beautiful redwood forest, I emerged from the woods at a look-out point. The reward for all that exertion was a breathtaking view of the entire South Bay and beyond.
I stood there marveling at the vista, picking out the dirigible hangars at Moffett Field, the white peaks of Shoreline Amphitheater, the new Levi’s Stadium, and the Dumbarton Bridge. The towers of San Francisco shimmered in the distance like Emerald City.
Two young men, brothers possibly, shared the gorgeous panorama with me. I couldn’t help eavesdropping as one said to the other, “It seems so weird that we’re looking at millions of people out there. They’re all different and unique, and they all have their own stories, but we’ll never know … .”
I was struck with the sense of awe with which he spoke, almost poetic, and the poignancy of his statement.
Yes, there are millions and millions of people out there. But that doesn’t take away from the value of our individual stories – and the importance of leaving a record of those stories.
2015 Is the Year to Tell Your Story
As we launch ourselves into a brand-new year, this is often a time for reflection and for making plans. More than likely, you’ve just pinned up a 2015 calendar, or are updating your electronic planner. As you make note of birthdays and anniversaries, and set goals for career, fitness, hobbies and spiritual pursuits, how about resolving that 2015 will be the year that you finally tell your story and/or your family history?
This could be as simple as making the decision to spend one morning a week working on your memoir. Or a commitment to devote one day a month to unpacking and organizing those boxes of family photos. Or a monthly “date” with your older relatives to hear their stories – and to write them down afterwards.
Perhaps your plans are more ambitious – organize a family reunion, or create a book out of your family’s stories, photographs, traditions and recipes to give as gifts next Christmas. These projects are not something for which you’ll want to wait until the last minute! A family reunion at, say, the end of the summer means sending out “save the date” cards now. A book would be a fabulous gift for the 2015 holiday season – but start on it now, whether that means researching genealogy, writing stories, or scanning photographs. Break down large projects into small, easy-to-complete tasks, then make a commitment to yourself to complete each job by a certain date – and write it down on your calendar or planner!
The Importance of Ordinary Lives
You may think that writing your life story or your family history is only for statesmen and celebrities, but these days that simply isn’t true. More and more, museums, archives and history collections are emphasizing the experiences of ordinary people, what daily life was typically like for, say, a Pullman porter in the 1890s, or a movie theater organist in the 1920s, or a clerk typist in the 1940s. Often, these are the most challenging exhibits to put together, because no one thought to record their story or keep the tools of their trade. Sadly, they just didn’t think that they – or their stories – were important, and now their experiences are being lost forever to the ravages of time.
There are many online services out there, as well as books and DVDs, to help you write your memoir or family history. But hands down, the most effective way to actually make it happen in 2015 is to attend a face-to-face, in person class. Writing can be a lonely business and it’s difficult to get started if you haven’t done much of it in the past. But sharing your stories with others and getting supportive feedback turns it into a fun, social event – and, signing up for a class makes it much more likely you’ll keep the commitment to write your story this year.
Next year at this time, when you’re doing the equivalent of standing at a look-out and marveling at the densely-populated landscape at your feet, you can tell yourself that yes, there are millions of people out there, each with their own story – but your story has been told!