By Cass Grange, Senior Advisor Associate and Director of Business Development
During this Thanksgiving, talk to your family about your priceless wealth. No, I am not talking about the money or investments. I’m talking about the stories and the history and the childhood memories that define the core of who you are.
Every person’s life is interesting. As we get older the young people will be incredulous at the challenges we faced as children. Believe me, the 1970s might as well be the 1870s for my kids. They can’t relate to the idea of one family phone for seven people. And, you had to share it! And others could listen in! And pretend to be you! The horrors!
You are old enough to be interviewed. The process is easy because there is an App for that. NPR and StoryCorps started The Great Thanksgiving Listen in 2015. It is a national movement that empowers young people—and people of all ages—to create an oral history of the contemporary United States by recording an interview with an elder using the free StoryCorps App. You can find out more at the link below:
The Great Thanksgiving Listen has grown from an experimental challenge into a vital intergenerational movement. To date, thousands of high schools from all 50 states have participated and preserved more than 100,000 interviews, providing families with a priceless piece of personal history.
Be inspired by their example. I urge you to ask your teenage child or grandchild to download the app, so you can be interviewed. Or maybe so you can help interview all the older and wiser folks at the Thanksgiving table. Interviews become part of the StoryCorps Archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
What else can your family do with the stories? You can send them out to relatives who aren’t with you at the dinner to hear the talk in person. You can also transcribe them or write them into story form. You could even go a step further and add in old photographs or personal illustrations – like my family did.
My sister interviewed my dad, who is a natural storyteller, and wrote up some of his stories and memories of growing up in South Dakota. Then I painted the illustrations. The project took us a few months of talking to him, writing, brainstorming and editing. The final product is just ten short stories about his siblings, and school, and World War II. We are having it printed by a company that usually prints photo books for families. The cost was minimal, but the impact will be great. All of Dad’s kids, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and great grandchildren will get a copy for Christmas. He is inscribing each one with a personal message. This is a priceless gift, and an investment that will continue to grow in value for generations to come. I am so grateful my future grandchildren will get to hear his voice clearly in this paperback book. And, even I was surprised at some of the things we discovered in the process. For instance, I knew there were 11 people in his family when he was growing up, but I had no idea that they didn’t even have a bathtub until he was seven years old. Imagine that for a minute!
This whole positive experience has inspired me. I am now going to write my own short memoir of childhood and illustrate it for my kids. They will be shocked to learn we never used seatbelts and think it funny that I, as the youngest, always had to sit on the hump of the backseat on the floor in an unairconditioned Dodge Polaris station wagon.
New studies are showing that one of the ways we build resilience in children and grandchildren is by sharing our own family’s stories of struggle and resilience. As the kids say: #thestruggleisreal! Tell your story. Download the app or get the kids to do it for you. Then make them do all the dishes after the Thanksgiving dinner so they too have some stories about real struggle to share with their kids in their later years.
Then you can relax, secure in the knowledge that you’ve made a purposeful long-term investment in your family’s wealth that will probably yield increasing dividends for a long, long time to come.