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Monday, November 23, 2015

‘Tis the Season To Tell Stories

I heard about a StoryCorps project—The Great Thanksgiving Listen—on NPR several weeks ago, then recently posted the link to it on Facebook.

Here’s the project’s description from the website*:

“This Thanksgiving weekend, StoryCorps will work with teachers and high school students across the country to preserve the voices and stories of an entire generation of Americans over a single holiday weekend.

“Open to everyone, The Great Thanksgiving Listen is a national assignment to engage people of all ages in the act of listening. The pilot project is specially designed for students ages 13 and over and as part of a social studies, history, civics, government, journalism, or political science class, or as an extracurricular activity.”

It’s a great idea, of course, getting young people to listen to the stories of the old people in their lives, and especially to record them.  And what better time to do that than the one day a year our extended family is gathered around the Thanksgiving Day table.

Or not.

This great project assumes many things, including that our significant elders are still alive and functioning, which is more likely the case if you are 15 years old.

But what if you’re well into adulthood yourself, with parents, grands, aunts and uncles no longer living?  How will their stories—many of which we may already know—get “listened to,” then passed down through the generations?

You know the answer: It’s up to you to write them down, to do the good hard work of capturing the stories of these past generations. A legacy project, I call it.  And you can make it easier by using yourself as the starting point, describing those elders as you personally experienced them.

For instance, you might do a writing exercise about your favorite Aunt Mildred, beginning with those summers you spent with her and Uncle Hughie in Door County.

Or the Thanksgiving your Grandpa Teddy dropped the turkey while bringing it to the table where 15 of your relatives sat waiting.

Or maybe your 10th birthday party when your crazy grandmother showed up with the most amazing present you’d ever received?  (You remember that one, don’t you?)

You may no longer be a teenager surrounded by an idyllic extended family on this holiday, but you still have lots of memories of those people—idyllic or not—who once made up your family, and inevitably made up your self. 

There’s much we can learn about those dearly departed, and especially their influence on us, when we get their stories down. I hope many of you take the time to do that.

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*For more information on the StoryCorps project, including some more writing ideas, click here:




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