The school book
Thursday October 23rd 2008, 2:59 pm
Filed under: Family,History

Note the new category.  I wanted to make it easier for people who were curious to find old posts such as about the Pony Express rider‘s daughter–who is still alive–to be able to go look them up.

Reading Sharon Randall‘s Sept 16th column reminded me of this.  A few years ago, one of my sister’s sons had a school assignment: he and his I think fifth-grade classmates each made a book, putting together so many blank pages, and mailed it away, asking that it be forwarded around and then mailed back by a date towards the end of the school year.  Each person it was sent to was asked to write about any particular historical date that they had memories of and might wish to write about and then to pass it on to the next person who would be interested in adding to it.

I quite honestly don’t remember what I wrote.  Having grown up just outside DC, I remember there were a lot of things I debated telling them about:

The announcements crackling badly over the PA system at Seven Locks Elementary School, with Mr Newcomb, the principal, telling us of yet another loss: President Kennedy.  Helen Keller.  Martin Luther King.  Robert Kennedy.

Watching the lunar landing.  Finding out that my little brother‘s new friend at school was Neil Armstrong’s son.  Living where we did, connections such as that were common.

The hitchhikers we passed, as my mom drove me from DC to Peabody Institute in Baltimore for the Maryland State Piano Competition, their thumbs up and signs held high: New Jersey.  Delaware.  Maine.  Asking for a ride for any part of the distance to help them get home after the March on Washington to protest the Vietnam War, hundreds of people along the freeway where it was illegal to hitchhike, but hey, that’s where the cars were, and hitchhiking was the norm in those days.  Not a one was hassled by the cops for it, as far as we could tell.

It’s so different now: when was the last time you saw someone with a thumb up along the side of the road?

The DC mounted police and the protesters at our picnic

But what I do remember is, my brother and my father got that book before I did, and before I passed it along, I photocopied their pages so I could pocket their memories, too.

I’d never heard the story before of how my dad had found out about Pearl Harbor.  Of his being squished down among 49 Christmas trees bumping along in the back of a pickup truck coming out of the forest, doing his part in a Boy Scout fundraiser. (I always pictured the truck white. I have no idea what color it was. I never realized it till I typed this, but, I always just assumed it was.) I could smell the intensity of the needles and the bite of the cold on my face from here as I read Dad’s words.

They were met and stopped by his father, who had raced to where they were to tell them the news: the US, too, was now at war.

Dad’s brothers served, as did Dad.

Mom sent this to the family two years ago, a story of forgiving and reconciliation.

I think that covers the posts that ought to be in the History category so far.

May we pass on a world with good stories for our children to tell.

One last thought, leading to perhaps the point of all this: when my grandfather turned 90, it was the same weekend that my brother got married to a girl in the same city, so there were a lot of family members gathered together.  A cousin prepared a list of questions to pepper Grampa with, and he and Gram and their five children were seated around a table at my aunt’s house, the rest of us playing audience around them, with a tape recorder going and a video camera running.  The questions got Grampa reminiscing and telling stories and it was wonderful.

Eventually the cousin manning the camera announced with chagrin that he’d run out of videotape.  We of the cousins generation watched from the sides with amazement as our parents all visibly relaxed around that table and started elbowing and teasing each other like the teenagers we’d never before seen them act like and started telling the REAL stories on each other now, and hey, do you remember Fran’s pony?

There is history in our older loved ones.  If you at all can, go grab something to record it with and go ask the questions that will help a part of them last forever.

While the aunts and uncles were laughing and telling on each other, the cousin with the videorecorder turned to my husband and whispered, “The audiotape’s still running.”

(Edited to add, found one more, about Abraham Lincoln and my ancestor.)

10 Comments so far
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Beautiful story. I love your recollections. There were so many life altering events during our generation and those before us. We could probably all write a book. Before my grandmother died in 2003 at age 93 she wrote a letter to pass on about her memories of being a young girl. It is priceless.

Comment by rebecca jc 10.23.08 @ 5:16 pm

Now *that* audiotape must be a classic! I’m really looking forward to going back and reading these stories in a leisurely way. You are absolutely right that it’s so wonderful to have these day-to-day stories documented; it’s the things that real people did in their real everyday lives that so often make the past real to me, rather than the famous history-book moments.

Comment by Jocelyn 10.23.08 @ 6:37 pm

Very interesting! I traveled back to my dad’s home town about 4 years ago to bury his ashes and had the opportunity to hear a lot of stories from WWII veterans at a restaurant I stopped at. You see, it was the week that the WWII Memorial was being dedicated in Washington, D.C. after all these long years.

Comment by Joansie 10.24.08 @ 5:04 am

I’d been taking a bit of a break from blogs the last few months, just sporadic comments here and there. But reading this story, I realize just how much I’ve missed reading your stories. They are always told so beautifully. Thank you once again for sharing.

Comment by Alison 10.24.08 @ 5:12 am

Wow, the memories! Thank you for sharing yours. 🙂

A friend just yesterday asked where I was when Kennedy was Mrs.Cox’s fifth grade class.

Comment by Toni Smoky-Mountains 10.24.08 @ 5:35 am

Have you been listening to any of the StoryCorps recordings? I really need to sit down with my parents.

Comment by RobinH 10.24.08 @ 7:03 am

i used to do some oral history with older family members. When I first got married, I used oral history as a way to get to know my in-laws. My father-in-law was a great story teller and I still have all the tapes, even though we haven’t listened to them in years. It was too painful after his death. Unfortunately, I didn’t do the same with my parents. They were 10 years younger than my in-laws, but died much sooner.

Comment by shadylady1216 10.24.08 @ 9:20 am

What a fabulous story! Yay for History, especially family history!

Comment by AmyS 10.24.08 @ 10:44 am

I lik ehte book story. I ust may steal that. I am goin gover to Italy to visit the relatives and just may find a nice journal to do that in. If I remember.

Comment by Carol 10.26.08 @ 12:11 pm

Sorry about the typos. I got a bit excited.

Comment by Carol 10.26.08 @ 12:11 pm

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