By: Sandee Remis
Once upon a time, a long time ago in a pretty little town, a child rocked on the front porch swing of her great-grandmother’s house. Adults sat on the front porch too, sometimes three generations of them, telling tales - about themselves, about the family down the street, about great-great Uncle John.
The child had heard some of the tales so many times she could almost recite them along with her elders, in her mind. These stories had been so much a part of the daily routine of her family’s life ever since she could remember, they had become a part of her.
Great Uncle Chester and the three-legged dog, little Grannie Annie and the State blue-ribbon pie, Aunt Carol and her four husbands, Father and his comrades in The War To End All Wars… The lulling, laughing voices of the grown-ups softly spun her back into a past filled with pictures and personalities so vivid, they seemed as real as the shoes on her feet.
Back then, nary a soul seemed to attach any special significance to these stories. Nonetheless, they provided the child with an enduring sense of place, of region, of ongoing history and of her family’s part in it. Back then, the child had no idea that this time-honored method of passing time was also an age-old way of linking man with his past and his future - an ancient gossamer filament binding the generations together with the strength of steel.
Only years later would she realize that these stories formed a valuable family legacy. Like precious jewels, they were hers to hand down and she would add on to the legacy with stories of the new generation.
Stories about Cousin Charlie, the hippie, who got arrested for demonstrating against the Vietnam War, and about how she cried at school when the principal announced President Kennedy was dead. About watching man’s first walk on the moon and about electing the first black mayor of Chicago. About Uncle Al’s ill-fated rescue of the kitty cat that turned out to be a skunk and about how sad Aunt Rose had been when they tore down the old Edgewater Beach Hotel.
The advent and subsequent popularity of TV has certainly put a crimp in the time families spend together telling stories. Nowadays, most children learn history in black-and-white from books and teachers in school and in color from newscasts and programs on TV at home. But it’s a history devoid of personal encounter and emotion; it doesn’t come from the heart - it’s not in living color.
As with any generation, the oral tradition depends upon each person listening and remembering a portion. And it is collective memory, piecing together what all of us have heard, that creates the whole story - the long story - of a family, of a community, of a people.
Can you recall the last time you took time to pass on a family story? Or is the legacy just languishing somewhere in an old forgotten corner? There’s no excuse. Bring it out, dust it off, tell it to the kids or grandchildren or the nieces and nephews… or tell it to EHS (just consider us your extended family).
And if you’re at a loss as to how to ferret out stories from your own family or to find out information about Edgewater’s history, Sister Mary Cramer, chair of the EHS Oral History Committee, conducts an excellent training session on how to “interview” a prospective storyteller. It’s fun, it’s easy, and the beauty of it is that the OTHER person does most of the talking. That’s the whole idea.
Don’t let your legacy or your neighbor’s legacy vanish into thin air. It’s our gift to the children of this generation. Let… no MAKE it live!