Here’s How To Preserve A Big Part Of Your Personal Family History
My Mom spent the last 7 1/2 years of her life in a Nursing Home. My Dad spent about the last 7 years of his life in that same Nursing Home.
Every weekend for 7 years almost without exception, it would be a trip to Edgerton (our hometown). We'd spend a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon usually just visiting, go out to the dining room for coffee and cookies or cake, play some cards (Rook was the preferred game, thank you very much!).
There really isn't a whole lot to do when your folks are in the Nursing Home. I thank God they had their minds, pretty much right up to the end. They had great memories, great stories, and so did many of the other residents at the Home.
There we'd be, with my parents and about 3 or 4 other elderly residents and I would get a history lesson. A very personal history lesson.
The talk would turn to the "old days" and I would often hear how life was "so much simpler then." Their talk was always about the good memories, about life back on the farm or in the small town. How everyone knew everyone in those days, back when people really cared about each other. Things back then, I would hear, were good...always good.
Now, of course, these were the days of the Great Depression, the days of World War II. One would say how their family lost a farm in the Depression...but it was OK, their neighbors took them in and they had a place to stay and live until they got back on their feet.
One would talk about the bitter cold winter or the dry windy summer, the summer when the corn and beans wouldn't grow. But it was OK, friends and neighbors would help out with food and whatever else was needed. And there was always next year.
They talked of people dying, how someone's father or mother or sister or brother had died. But that was okay too because there was something even better on the other side. It was okay back in the old days, they'd say, it was always okay.
It was the day after Thanksgiving in 2003, a Friday. We went to Edgerton to the Nursing Home and I took along a tape recorder. My Mom was napping and my Dad and I went to a little corner room in the home...and we talked.
I recorded the talk. I asked him about his childhood, what was it like on that little farm by Trosky Minnesota in the 1920s and 1930's, when they had horses for the fieldwork and went to "the store" maybe 3 or 4 times a year. What was it like growing up with your 8 brothers and sisters on that farm with no electricity in the '20s and not enough rooms for everyone?
I asked him about the War, the big War. He had been drafted, went to Louisiana for basic training ("I remember they had bugs there the size of Buick's!"), went to the desert in California, went to England.
He talked about crossing the English Channel, he talked about the beaches of Normandy, he talked about the fields of France. He talked about the Battle of the Bulge, the snow, the cold, the Nazi's. He talked about his buddies and he talked for the very first time to me about a buddy who had been shot and didn't come home. He cried.
And he laughed. He laughed about another buddy and him who found some French wine and had...fun...in the midst of Hell. He laughed out loud thinking about it. I liked that.
And the whole time the tape recorder ran...and ran...and ran. I captured an hour of my Dad talking about his life.
At the time I thought I was doing this for my kids, and my Grandkids. I thought this would be so cool for them to have this conversation with their Grandfather (and Great-Grandfather). 50 years from now my Grandkids could sit back and listen to what life was like in rural Minnesota back in the first half of the twentieth century. It would be ancient history on a personal, family level.
I made copies onto CDs and gave them to my kids. It was about 3 years later, at the age of 86, that my Dad passed away. He got to see 2 of his Great-Grandkids but not the other 3. But now they'll be able to "see" him. And so will their kids, and their kids.
Oh, and I found out something else. I really didn't record that conversation for them. Nope. I recorded it for myself.
I would urge you, if you still can, sit down with your Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa, run a recorder and just chat with them, talk about their growing up years and their life. It'll be awkward at first (it was for me) but you'll be doggone glad you did. It won't mean a whole lot right now, but...
...but, one day you'll think "Wow, I'm glad I did that. I did something right."
I didn't record a conversation with my Mom. I wished I had. She had gotten so weak with her diabetes that I never did. That's a mistake and another "mistake nickel" in my bathtub of life. Damn.
Don't put it off. Do it while you can. I'm so glad I actually did something right. You'll be glad too.
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