This year National Grandparents Day is the first Sunday after Labor Day. This year it’s September 11. I learned that this was not something created by greeting-card
companies, but the result of a grassroots movement started by West Virginia housewife, Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade in 1970. President Jimmy Carter, signed Proclamation 4580 – National Grandparents Day – on August 3, 1978.
“The elders of each family have the responsibility for setting the moral tone for the family and
for passing on the traditional values of our Nation to their children and grandchildren. They bore the hardships and made the sacrifices that produced much of the progress and comfort we enjoy today.”
One way to make the day special is by talking to your grandparents (or grand-friends) and recording the conversations as on oral history for the upcoming generations.
Now that my grandparents and parents have passed, I wish I had a recorded conversation of my grandfather telling me about his service on a ship in the South Pacific in World War
II or my grandmother telling me about her Cherokee grandmother.
I also wish I had other conversations for my son to hear since he did not have the opportunity to hear their voices, their use of language, and their period-locked perspectives on so many topics.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to record my mother-in-law’s stories before her dementia worsened. She described growing up in Alexandria, Egypt before WW II and her young adult years in Naples, Italy before she met my father-in-law, a member of the US Navy.
From those several sessions, I learned a few tips:
- Prepare open ended questions. For example, Describe your childhood house/town/school/etc.; How did it feel when…? Tell me about a typical day in….; Why was….?
- Take a few notes, but don’t try to write down every word. With my mother-in-law’s memory issues, she might not be able to return to her original though when I interrupted to ask for clarification.
- Let your child conduct the interview. But a seemingly innocent question might trigger upsetting memories and your presence may be required to navigate or translate.
- Avoid long interviews. It is less exhausting to conduct a series of short interviews.
- Conduct a sound check to make sure all voices are audible and background noises aren’t drowning out the conversation.
- Review each recording soon afterwards to make sure nothing important was lost. Take a few key notes so you can follow-up in the next interview.
If you do not have a grandparent, ask a friend or neighbor from that generation to serve in place. The knowledge and experience that our elders share not only help us understand the world we’ve inherited but also broadens our perspective.
Need inspiration or help getting started? Visit StoryCorps Great Questions
Never forget: an oral history of September 11, 2001 Mitchell Fink and Lois Mathias
Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans tell about life in the segregated South; senior editors, William H. Chafe, Raymond Gavins, Robert Korstad
I thought my father was God and other true tales from NPR’s National Story Project
The oral history workshop: collect and celebrate the life stories of your family and friends by Cynthia Hart, with Lisa Samson.
Dream : a tale of wonder, wisdom & wishes by Bosak, Susan V.
Something to Remember Me By, Bosak, Susan V.
The Tapper twins go to war (with each other) Geoff Rodkey.
Have Fun, Susan C.
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