By Andrea Boeshaar
I enjoy meeting, mentoring, and encouraging other writers. Oftentimes newer writers will ask me where they should begin. How should they start unpeeling the layers of their hearts, captivating energy and emotion? I reply by suggesting they write what they know. Sounds cliche, I know. But allow me to explain.
One of my heart’s desires is to compile a booklet for each of my three sons depicting the origins of our family. It’s been a challenge and, as I search a myriad of Internet databases and talk to relatives, I find myself wishing that of my family members would have kept a journal.
For instance, I would love to have a glimpse into what my dad’s mother thought about things, about her children, her husband, her in-laws. She died when I was about five so I only have vague memories and a scant few photos of her. And I never knew my maternal great grandmother. Had she kept a diary, it would have likely been penned in Norwegian. What a treasure that would be. What a keepsake! But my great grandmother was a hard-working woman whose daily goal was keeping her children fed and clothed while her husband was away, laying railroad track in upper Wisconsin and in Canada. Perhaps she thought keeping a diary was a time-waster, after all who would want to know how many strawberries she canned that morning or how many ears of corn she picked for supper. Who would care that she sent two of her sons out into the woods to hunt rabbit for the stew she prepared or how many cows she and my grandfather owned?
I’m sure she wouldn’t have fathomed that her great granddaughter, sitting in her centrally-heated home on a March evening, typing away on her computer (after dashing out and buying one of Applebee’s Oriental chicken salads for supper) would have LOVED to know what life was like in the late 1890s and early 1900s.
About 20 years ago, I did coerce my grandfather into telling me about his grandparents. In a nursing home at that time, he dictated to my mother and then I typed it up for that year’s family reunion. Now my grandfather’s memories are preserved in writing. Here’s an excerpt:
“Bestemore or “Besta” as we called her (meaning “grandmother” in Norwegian), was a wonderful gardener. I especially remember the bleeding heart bushes blooming in the spring. She had apple trees and gooseberry buses for jam. Her garden was a thing of beauty, arranged in raised beds with little paths between the plots of vegetables. I remember eating in Besta’s summer kitchen, a lean-to with a wood range (stove), table, chairs, and a cupboard for dishes. It was the coziest place when it was cold or rainy.”
How precious my grandfather’s memories are to me. My “Duppa,” as I called him, died at the age of 90 back in 1998. But his memory (and those of the rest of my ancestors) lives on – and more poignant than ever since a small slice of the past has been documented.
As people living in the 21st Century, we have invaluable tools at our fingertips that can enable us to record history as it happens. We can journal or blog about how events such as the political landscape, 9-11 tragedy, the Indian Ocean tsunami, and the
earthquake and tsunami shaped our lives or our way of thinking -- for future generations. We can record the miraculous things God is doing (and has done) and track our spiritual growth as a testimony. All we have to do is stroke the keyboard, unlike my grandmother who bent her knuckles on a manual Smith Corona typewriter. Japan
So, attend those upcoming family reunions and let the elderly relatives bend your ear. Ask them what they remember about growing up and, with their permission, get it on tape or video. Then write about the event. It's a fabulous way to decode your past and I guarantee those invaluable keepsakes are worth the effort!
Do you already write about your family history? Do you blog or journal? What have you discovered about your past recently?