Memories often not passed on to descendants. (THE NEWS/files)

MacDuff’s Call: Take the time to listen to the old stories, and pass them down

Family members pass away without sharing knowledge

My husband’s grandfather, in his later years, used to announce before going to bed that if he was still alive in the morning, he was going to go for a walk.

He would make this announcement, both to get a rise out of his wife, with which he was successful at every time, and a giggle out of the younger people in the room. However, he was also stating the reality of how he started his days, because of the fact he always woke up at 5 a.m. and had to kill three hours until he could start making noise in his workshop, as the complex they lived in did not allow noise until 8 a.m..

He was a character, we know that for sure, as his friendly joking with others, often to get a rise out of them, made apparent.

Yet, because we lived in different provinces, we had few opportunities to really get to know him, or hear the stories of his life. It is something that I truly regret.

I also regret not asking my dad about his war experience and not learning more about how my mom felt as a Second World War bride coming from Edinburgh, Scotland, to an isolated farm on the Saskatchewan prairie.

I know it was difficult for my dad to talk about the war, as he struggled with undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder, but it really bothers me that I know little about his experience.

I got a better sense of what my mom went through, as she was willing to discuss her experience, but I’ve never taken the time to ask and have not written down even the little bit either said before they passed away. This has left me feeling like I lost the opportunity to pass their stories to our children.

Recently, I raised the topic of time with my walking partner and how it seems to fly by, especially as we get older, and it launched us into reflecting on examples of such, which we were not at a loss for. However, the conversation quickly turned into her sharing the same regret I have, of not writing down the stories of her mom’s and dad’s lives before they passed away.

Luckily, we both have older sisters who are the “appointed” historians of the family, however neither of us have actually taken the time to pull that history from them.

We were able to further chastise ourselves for the poor job we were doing in marking the milestones of our own children’s lives. We both had the best of intentions of photographing and journaling our kids lives – admittedly she more so than I, because at least she takes pictures of her kids – but because of time flying by – our excuse and we’re sticking to it – we simply have not followed through. We know, in years to come, we will be digging through boxes of pictures trying to figure out if the “missing front tooth” picture was taken in 1998, or 1999, as is the case of another friend who recently retired and committed to tackling her boxes of pictures before she has one foot in the grave.

Luckily, there are a lot of tools to preserve old and record new family occasions and events. The use of digital photos and Facebook has provided the ability to consolidate and share a lot of family events amongst family and friends.

However, unless we are taking the time to get the stories behind the people in the photos, it’s really not much better than the box of old photos tucked in the closet.

There’s a plethora of tips online on how to record your family history.

One that I wished I had enlisted years ago was a suggestion to use family gatherings and focus on getting the oral history of the family along with the family photo. The article suggests the following, “Do everyone a favour and plan ahead. To be as thorough and efficient as possible, you’ll want to know what to ask before you whip out the recorder to interview the family matriarch over her pumpkin pie. And find a relaxed setting to calm any stage fright. Ask your relatives to dig back in their pasts: What’s your first memory? What was your favorite song growing up? How did you win that medal? If you don’t want to put your interviewees on the spot, send them the questions ahead of time. And ask them to tell treasured family tales in their own words. The article also offered the suggestion to go sites such as Ancestry.com or The Genealogy Guide for sample questions, if you are not sure how to get the oral history flowing.

Time does fly and it can be challenging to fit everything into our busy lives, so I know that taking the time to record the oral stories of the family may not be a priority.

It never was for me and because of that, I now live with the regret of not knowing more about the grandpa who was a character and my dad who deserved to be heard. It’s too late for me to ask. I hope it’s not too late for you.

Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and citizen of the year and is president of ARMS.

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