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Ties That Bind

Time travel is a popular topic of best-selling books and
blockbuster movies, from Star Trek, to Back to the Future, to the more recent
Time Traveler’s Wife.

Characters go to great lengths, transported by advanced
technology, to visit the past or to gain a glimpse of the future. I’m a big fan
of time travel, too, but my mode is more energy-efficient than a spaceship or
time machine, and almost anyone can ride along.

My time travel is fueled by family photos, newspaper
clippings, letters, and other memoirs. My mission – and yours, if you choose to
accept it – is figuring out a way to bring this history to life – along with
the family members who made it – for future generations. Technology, like time
travel, offers a launch vehicle to send a message to the future.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” wrote William
Faulkner, the great Southern author. That’s how I’ve always felt, even as a
child. Growing up next door to my grandparents on the farm, the world revolved
at a slower pace, allowing ample time to listen to Grandma tell stories from
her rocker on the front porch.

As years passed, I raised a family of my own, and I’ve
pondered how to make the past relevant to a new generation. Only one of my mom’s
10 grandchildren was born before she died. I want my daughters (and their
cousins) to recognize my mom, Erma, as more than a faded photograph. I want to
share her love of laughter, music, and ballroom dancing, and her struggles and
dreams.

I have many photos, a few written college assignments, her
wonderful recipes, and letters she wrote to me after college. My goal is to
weave these bits and pieces into a lively fabric of life, a cherished keepsake
for generations to come.

Finding a new vehicle for sharing stories is appealing to
many farm families today, as younger generations are increasingly separated by
geography, as well as age. Grandchildren often only see grandparents at
Christmas or on vacations.

Skype and Facebook are great for keeping in touch. Some
families create a website to share photo galleries and family event calendars,
to swap recipes, to post messages, and to plan reunions.

Creating a lasting bond and preserving memories goes beyond
texting and instant messaging. Today, there are multiplatform vehicles for
achieving this, and the younger generation can take the lead. They’ve grown up
with digital camcorders, scanners, and computerized recordings.

My niece, Jenifer, combined family photos and music to
create wonderful DVDs for my in-laws’ 60th wedding anniversary. She shared
copies with our family.

Other families have created multi-media family albums, including slide shows of photographs as well as videotaped
interviews of loved ones.

Not everyone is comfortable being recorded or videotaped.
The interviewer must be sensitive to moods, willing to be patient, and ask
open-ended questions, like these, that evoke stories:

  • Why did your family settle here?
  • What world events had the most impact on you while you
    were growing up?
  • What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do?
  • Would you choose the same life’s work if you had to do it
    again?

If there’s a World War II veteran in your family, time is
running out to capture his or her memories. Many, like my late father-in-law, are
reluctant to share. Try:

  • Asking about their experiences so family will have a
    record of their service.
  • Watching a war DVD to help kick-start a discussion. Ask if
    it’s accurate.
  • Looking at photos taken with comrades; ask about them and
    the settings.
  • Asking about uniforms and medals.
  • Sparking memories by bringing up current news of war.

Maybe a member of your family grew up during the Dust Bowl.
Ken Burns’ recent documentary illustrates how riveting those stories can be.

Of course, scrapbooking still remains immensely popular.
Today, there are businesses that will create a family keepsake memoir for you
(storyofmylife.com or tellstudios.com).

A family’s history is more than births, marriages, and
deaths Stories cement a family legacy. Memories are fragile – easy to lose and
difficult to retrieve.

Val Farmer, psychologist and longtime columnist, maintains
that the older generation also must play a role. “Don’t depend on other people’s
memories to preserve your memory,” he says. “Scraps of paper and heirlooms do
not do it. Tell the stories that go with them.”

Need a deadline to get started? Encourage a young person
(ages 8 to 18) to interview a grandparent or a friend of the family, and then
have him or her enter a 300-word essay in the annual Listen to a Life Essay
Contest. For details, call 800/772-7765 or visit legacyproject.org. The
deadline is March 22, 2013. 

More resources

  • Breaking the code: A father’s Secret, a Daughter’s  Journey and the question that changed
    everything,
     by Karen
    Fisher-AlAniz
  • legacyproject.org
  • storycorps.org
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