29 September 2010

Don't Forget "Her" Story

My Aunt Ellie could whistle just like a bird. Her wide smile greeted us whenever we saw her. I could never tell if she was teasing or being serious until those last years of her life when I chose to believe every word she spoke to me. Because they were always the same words.

I didn't know if she still knew me or not. The famous bird whistle had been silenced and the medications had taken their toll on her memory. So those last few times I saw Aunt Ellie, I was careful to tell her who I was before giving her my hug. "Hi Aunt Ellie, it's Joy." But I think she did know me. At least I hope she did. Her ready reply was always, "Joy (sounding so delighted to see me), I love you." Well, I love her too.

Just last weekend, I said goodbye to this aunt, the dear woman who married my dad's brother and became a vital part of the family for dozens of years. The family buried her on Friday. I've thought a lot about her loving nature, about her many talents, about her large family and about the way she extended herself to her nieces, nephews, other relatives and Church friends.

My Aunt Ellie
Many times when we write family history, our interest lies in the men. Their jobs, their adventures, their exploits may seem more exciting and certainly easier to discover and verify. But let's not forget our "herstory." The history of women who may "just" keep the home fires burning. The women who smiled, who loved and had talents like home canning, sewing, baking bread and maybe even whistling like a bird. Their contributions may be the most important contributions of all.

12 September 2010

WRITING HIS-STORY: God's Influence Revealed

In writing a personal or ancestral history, we cannot help but have some power over the story of a person's life. Choosing what events to include and what to leave out, how we tell the story, the voice we use all impact how we see that person's life. In an interesting history, we use techniques from fictional writing--scenes, drama, climax, themes, etc. In life we are always telling a story to ourselves and to others that means something to us. Our perspective is revealed in how we view events.

Something I have noticed is the goodness in each person's story. Knowing more about a person seems to endear him or her to me and hopefully to my readers. We see how the challenges a person faces causes growth or affects him or her in the other events of his or her life.

My own perspective is that each life is about a person's relationship with God. My belief is that we come from heaven and will return there. The tragedies and the joys of our lives are the things we learn and grow from. We may blame God or thank Him or even deny that He exists. However if I am looking for God's mercy or His blessings in a life, almost always a pattern can be seen as the life is examined. That pattern is the story that is being told.

02 September 2010

A Taste of Yesterday

Our neighborhood group was challenged to try an experiment--live for three days without going to the store for food, the gas station for gas, and the kicker, live without electricity. Refrigerator and phones were excepted and my husband and I didn't investigate too closely whether our gas water heater used any electricity to get the hot water to the shower.

But it was enough. Enough to cause some thought about how my ancestors lived. We had oil lamps already filled, but they did not give me enough light to read comfortably. I got a new appreciation for the sun. Its rising and setting took on a whole new importance to me. I sorted through my "dirty" clothes, pondering which ones really needed washing. I hung them on the clotheslines instead of throwing them in the dryer. I washed the dirty dishes in the sink by hand. I was so grateful for the season my garden is in--and harvested. I thought a lot harder about cooking. I learned that I didn't really know how to build a fire. But I was rescued on that account by a neighbor.

That's another observation. We pulled together as neighbors. One sweet neighbor figured out how to bake bread and she shared with us. When she heard that we didn't have an easy means of cooking food, she brought over a little propane cookstove to lend us for the duration.

I missed my computer. I missed electric lighting, the dishwasher, washer and dryer, and my stove. But I lived for a little while in some small sense, the life of a woman in days gone past. I felt those women's pain and their joy, their reliance on the weather and the garden and their neighbors. It enriches my life and also my family history writing.