By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian – SummooseTales
Thanksgiving is getting closer day by day. Trader Joes already has turkeys — sell by December 5. Last week I bought the requisite bag of cranberries remembering back to when they used to sell out before Thanksgiving perhaps 20 years ago. I picked up an orange and a red pepper yesterday, these are the additional ingredients for cranberry salsa. I also picked up a quart of low-sodium chicken stock, just in case we needed it for the stuffing recipe.
We are hosting the Thanksgiving meal this year, so we also worked this weekend getting the house ready. I moved the Personal History client files, archives, and albums from my dining room office, where I can spread them out, review, edit or scan, back to the guest bedroom office.
This all started me to think about starting a new tradition, trying a Thanksgiving – Show and Tell. Building on my successful experience with Show and Tell for a recent Family Reunion, I reflected that the primary element needed for a successful Show and Tell are Family and Friends who share stories which are recorded.
So this is my Thanksgiving – Show and Tell checklist:
• Equipment – have a digital voice recorder, charged and ready. Many smart phones also have a voice recording app if the digital recorder is not available.
• For some of my Association of Personal Historian colleagues – video recording is also a good option.
• My children will be back from college for Thanksgiving so they can share their unique stories about recent or past adventures.
• Family and Friends have also been invited to join us for the Thanksgiving meal.
• Similar to Show and Tell for Family Reunions I will need to cordially invite everyone to bring an object, a photo, or and album and especially one or more stories that they will talk about for 5 or so minutes.
• An object or photos are not required but they give us an opportunity to share a bit of family history and a story or two or three. Example: What’s the story behind the display case of N-Gauge trains?
• The Thanksgiving Table may display a unique table-cloth or dishes and serving bowls. Does anyone know the story behind the salt and pepper shaker, the HOC glasses, and what about the table itself? What are the stories and what are the origins of these items?
• Then there are the unique foods and side dishes. Why do we have sauerkraut, and why does the pot need to stay in the kitchen and not on the table?
• Is there a tradition of sharing what we are thankful for? How did this start?
• My favorite questions for my mom or my dad or my in-laws – what was Thanksgiving like for your family when you were growing up? Where did you celebrate? Who participated? What foods do you remember? Example: my mom was a finicky eater. So as a youth she always got one of the wings from the turkey with lots of skin.
• Were there any special traditions for Thanksgiving Day? Examples: When did the turkey go in the oven? Did you watch the Macy’s Day Parade? In my family growing up, there was the tradition of the annual Thanksgiving project. Since I was one of four boys, perhaps this was a way my dad could keep us busy and out of the house while mom was busy getting things ready – the food, the table, straightening up the house so at least temporarily it did not look like four rambunctious boys lived there with gym bags, books, papers, and toys spread around.
• Remember the time we helped tear down the old barn on the back farm? Was that really a Thanksgiving Project?
• Sometimes it is good to ask about smells and tastes? For me there was the smell of the turkey roasting. I wanted to watch my mom baste the turkey, but really I just wanted to take in that heavenly smell. With my own family, for some strange reason I look forward to the smell of lemon pledge, endust or other anti-dust spray. I like to walk around dusting, mind you this is only once or twice a year, all the wood surfaces, the chairs, furniture, cabinets, and tables on Thanksgiving Day. Well maybe I will share this joy with one of my children this year, or maybe not.
• Show and Tell works best if you block or designate a specific time for formal sharing. Perhaps during that hour gap between finishing the main meal and serving desserts. On the other hand you may also need to schedule a bit of an interlude for clearing the table, putting the food away, and washing up. In our family we may also need to shoehorn it in between the annual Scrabble game and watching a movie together, sometime these go on concurrently.
• If possible gather in one room, have people bring out their objects or photos. Note some people will keep these secret until the designated time to share.
• Designate ahead of time someone to take pictures during the Show and Tell.
• The role of the Personal Historian or facilitator is to start and stop the digital recorder to capture each unique story. Make sure people say their name, make good eye contact, and nod encouragingly. Be a good listener and ask follow-up questions, if needed.
• Be prepared to kick things off by showing an object or a photo and telling your own short story.
• Be prepared for surprises, that others may want to embellish the story or provide context, also that spontaneous stories will pop up that are not connected to a picture or an object. Perhaps a story about little Ralph and the missing silver spoon.
• At the end thank everyone, and think about how you will share the recordings and pictures with everyone, and how you and other family members can combine these stories into your family history.
• Bonus: You may find a quiet time during Thanksgiving or the Thanksgiving weekend to…
o Do a one on one interview with your mom, dad, aunt, uncle or family friend. You might find out about why your mom was afraid of mice.
o Surreptitiously wonder down to check out what’s in the basement or the attic.
o Walk around the house and take a few pictures of unique family objects that may have additional stories.
I hope everyone has a story filled Thanksgiving. Please consider trying Show and Tell.