As you dream of meeting around the Thanksgiving table this year, you may be remembering times spent listening to the stories told in your family during family gatherings. One of the stories told many times in our family was about the time we had a big family reunion at a park and it suddenly began to storm. Everyone grabbed something important and ran for cover. Uncle Clarence will always be remembered with a smile because he saved the watermelon.
Everyone has a story about a funny Uncle Clarence, an eccentric Aunt Gertrude, or another relative who did memorable things. Celebrate those stories in November as you observe Family Stories Month and National Memoir Writing Month.
Here are some ways that will help jog those memories:
- FAMILY: Some questions to ask – What is a family? Who was in your family when you were young? Who is in your family now? Where did your name come from? What nicknames were given to various members of your family? What friends have been like family to you? Who are the people you have loved in your life?
- ACTIVITIES: Start by making a list of things that families do together, such as fun activities, religious activities, vacations, spring cleaning, making music, etc. Ask participants to share a family story about one of the things listed.
- HOLIDAYS: Review some of the various holidays during the year and ask participants to share a story of how their family celebrated it. What were their family traditions on these special days? Possibilities: birthdays, religious days (Easter, Passover, etc.), Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, patriotic holidays.
- FAMILY TREE: Draw a simple family tree on a piece of copy paper, with blanks for the current generation, two generations back, and two generations forward. Make a copy for each participant. (Some are available on the internet.) Help participants as they fill it out. Ask questions like these: Who do you resemble on your family tree? Who looks like you? Which relative was the funniest, or the most eccentric?
- OBJECTS: Gather some objects like these that will trigger memories: photo albums and other old pictures, family portraits, china dishes, jewelry, a quilt or doily, lunch pail, record album covers, old newspaper or Life magazine, Norman Rockwell posters, old school books, wedding veil, baby booties or bib, vintage transistor radio, ballet shoes, kitchen utensils and tools (flour sifter, manual egg beater, spatula). Ask: Who used this [object], or which family member does this [object] remind you of?
- PLACES: Find a large map of the country to display. Or, find an outline of the country small enough for an 8½” x 11” piece of paper and make a copy for everyone in your group. Talk about all the places people have been – birthplaces, schools or college, workplaces, memorable vacations. Ask: Where were you born? Where did you live most of your life?
- SENSORY: Sounds, tastes, touch, and aromas can transport us instantly back to another time, another place. Here are some good triggers: Smells – cinnamon, Old Spice after-shave, rubbing alcohol, sachet, roses, balsam or pine needles. Tastes – applesauce, lemonade. Sounds – train whistle, rooster crowing, typewriter, Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley singing. Touch – feather, felt, fur, hand lotion. Ask participants what each one makes them think about.
- HATS AND ACCESSORIES: Gather some old hats and fashion accessories (or pictures of them). Talk about which members of the family would wear these. Suggestions: pillbox hat, beret, wedding veil, derby, feather boa, pocket watch, wool scarf, gloves, love beads, political lapel pin, tie tack, headband, barrette, baby bonnet, cowboy hat, baseball cap, belt buckle, wide tie, handkerchief, purse, wristwatch, charm bracelet, play sheriff’s badge, cufflinks, cummerbund.
- FAMILY STORY DAY: Hold a family story day. In advance, hold a reminiscing session with your group on the topic “Funny Family Memories.” Write down stories that are shared. Invite family members to come in and then read the stories aloud. Encourage family members to share their own memories.
FAMILY STORIES TRIVIA
- What is the name of Dorothy’s aunt in the book and movie The Wizard of Oz? Aunt Em
- At one time, where were you able to find Mammy Yokum? In the comic strip section of the newspaper
- In the 1950s sitcom about a family called the Andersons, which family member knew best? Father
- Which fictional character told tales about Brer Rabbit? Uncle Remus
- When was the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin written? Right before the U.S. Civil War, in the mid-1880s
- In which fictional family do you find Uncle Fester and Cousin Itt? Addams Family
- The Brothers Karamazov is a novel that took place in which country? Russia
- What kind of poetry is represented by Mother Goose? Nursery rhymes for children
- Who is Auntie Mame? The inspiration for a novel, a Broadway play, a musical, and two movies
- During World War II, what was the name of the figure on recruitment posters? Uncle Sam
Thought for the Month: “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” Bishop Desmond Tutu
“Family Stories” was written by Beckie Karras. Copyright 2015 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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