Thursday, November 26, 2009

DST Feature: Preserving Memories: One story at a time

Editor's Note: The following article was previously published in the October 2009 issue of DST Insider, a publication of

It started out as a simple lunchtime conversation. I was with friends, celebrating a parent’s birthday. To help spur on the conversation I started asking questions about memories surrounding the guest of honor.

After a few jokes, the stories began to swirl around the table and I was allowed the privilege of learning more of their family history—stories that are told and re-told during a variety of gatherings.

I’ve always said that everyone has a story, you just have to find a way to record it.

It’s probably why I love history, and why I found myself bypassing the novels and other works of fiction, and instead picking up nonfiction books, ranging from a memoir of growing up under Hitler’s rule to stories from the “dirty” thirties, the dust bowl.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been absorbing the stories found within these books. It’s reminded me how important it is to preserve our family stories.

Think of it this way. As scrapbookers we talk about archiving our photographs and layouts, but first and foremost, we must remember to preserve our stories. Our stories make a powerful impact.

In “The Worst Hard Times” by Timothy Egan, Egan uses interviews and family stories to bring to life the dust bowl that covered the American High Plains during the 1930s.

The book jacket sums up the story in a few words: “This is the story of those who stayed and survived – those who, now in their eighties and nineties, will soon carry their memories to the grave - and it is an extraordinary story of endurance and heroism.”

To the grave. Wow. Think about all of the first-hand accounts of this period in history which will be lost, forever, in just a few short years.

Since starting this book, I’ve wondered what life was like for my dad’s parents. They were farmers living around Dodge City, Kansas at the time of the dust bowl. I can’t even begin to imagine what this time period
was like for them. In fact, I know very little of my grandparents’ life during much of their lives.

Egan’s book gives me a glimpse of what they might have faced during the depression and dust bowl. But, unfortunately, like many families, I can’t find out.

My grandparents carried their stories to the grave. It’s a piece of family history I’ll never have a chance to capture.

As scrapbookers we create a variety of layouts. I think the layouts that will have lasting impact are the ones
that truly capture the stories that define who we are, as individuals and families.

Unless we take time, even in the midst of life’s hustle and bustle, to find a way document our stories, they will
disappear, like dust in the wind.

Make it a goal this month to capture a few stories on paper. Take time to talk with a family member or two, and write down those conversations.

Maybe you won’t create a scrapbook page immediately. That’s OK. “Archive” your raw journaling. Get your thoughts down on paper or in typed form. You can always create a heritage layout or two later.

The important thing is to get your stories down, into a way you can save them for future generations.

In my short life (yes, to many, it’s short), I’ve lived through the bicentennial of America (no, I don’t remember much), the assassination attempt on President Reagan, two space shuttle explosions, and of course, Sept. 11; and those are just the “big” events.

Reading Egan’s book has made me want to jot down a few memories these and other incidents in my life. Words are powerful. What words define who you are? What is your story?

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