“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.”
Storytelling abounds during the holidays. That which all personal historians strive for on a daily basis—memory preservation, communal story sharing, meaningful (and fun!) reminiscence—often comes to the forefront for families during the holiday season.
What better time to tell stories than around the Thanksgiving table? What better opportunity to ask questions of family elders than when generations are gathered together in one place?
It is my sincere hope that everyone takes advantage of these opportunities for story sharing—and that, once the turkey leftovers are eaten and the December decorations are stored away, those feelings of gratitude and recognition that come with reminiscence linger indefinitely, urging you to make story sharing a regular part of your everyday lives.
Communities big and small across the nation gathered this past weekend to honor our military veterans. When I was a kid, Veterans Day meant parades and plastic poppies. As a parent, I strive to expose my son to individuals who served our country, giving him an opportunity to hear stories firsthand. Last year, we toured the Battleship New Jersey and spoke to WWII Veterans. This year, we traveled to Philadelphia, engaging with numerous Veterans in heartwarming conversations at the Independence Seaport Museum. Did you bear witness to a Vet’s story?
EXPLORE VETERANS’ STORIES
The Veterans Legacy Program aims to memorialize Veterans by telling the stories of those buried in VA national cemeteries, ensuring their stories live on beyond their final resting place.
BEYOND THE HOLIDAY
While Veterans Day has passed, remember that any day is a good day to ask a Vet questions—and to listen.
“As a Vietnam Vet, I find it easier to share war stories with fellow Vets than with non-Vets,” writes Tom Cormier, cofounder of Legacy Stories. “But there's a lot more to military life than the worst of the worst... There are lots of fascinating stories to be told about other aspects of military life. In fact, most Veterans would be happy to share their military stories about coming of age, buddies for life, humorous situations, exotic cultures, travels, and more. All they need (and want) is for someone to ask. Problem is, most people don't know how.” Thank you, Tom, for helping us discover how with these 10 thoughtful conversation starters.
THE GREAT THANKSGIVING LISTEN
Truly listening to someone reminds them that their life matters. StoryCorps leads the way in creating a culture of listening that echoes across the nation, encouraging everyone—especially young people—to interview elders during Thanksgiving gatherings. Their goal: to create an oral history of the contemporary United States, one interview at a time.
Interviews recorded on the StoryCorps App become part of the StoryCorps Archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The Great Thanksgiving Listen is now in its third year, providing families with a priceless piece of personal history.
FAMILY MEMOIR OPPORTUNITY?
Maybe you think you’ve heard all your family’s stories. But ask yourself this, suggests Nancy West, who provides memoir services in Carlisle, Massachusetts: “Could you retell the details of their stories to your own children or grandchildren? Could you explain the connections, nail the chronology, put the pieces together so that it made sense even when told secondhand?” If not, the holidays may be the time to embark on capturing stories for your family memoir.
More Holiday Reads
- Soldiers Are More than Just Symbols: David Abrams on seeing the individuality of veterans [LitHub]
- This Year, Pass the Turkey AND the Family Photos [SF Gate]
Any Old Day of the Week
Our photos tell the stories of our lives—and our lives, frankly, are not merely birthdays & weddings. Our lives are lived in the in-between. Are you capturing those moments for the next generation?
What Are You Reading?
I’m generally reading many books at once—one nonfiction book (always learning!), one cheesy romance (I’ve got to escape once in a while!), one literary work (often a classic I somehow skipped as an English major), one impulse check-out from my local library…and always, these days, at least one memoir.
Currently I am finishing up Leonardo DaVinci by Walter Isaacson, with Amy Tan’s latest, Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir, up next. What first-person writing inspires you?