Archive | Holidays RSS feed for this section

How did you celebrate Christmas?

23 Dec

This has been one of my favorite questions for the past 50 years. I was chatting with a colleague at a holiday party after work recently. She said, I remember Bruce what you shared about your work as a Personal Historian? Yes, I explained, we record people’s life stories and help them to preserve and shared them with loved ones.

She then asked, you were telling me about how I could capture stories from my aunt. What questions should I ask her and how should I record it? I shared, “Well, first ask her about her earliest memories. To record, you can use the voice recording app on your smart phone, or buy a digital voice recorder.  These cost about $90 or so. You can download and save the recordings on your computer. So, when your aunt calls, you can receive the call on your iPad and then start recording. I shared several other sample questions, and then I shared one of my favorites – How did you celebrate Christmas?

As I shared earlier, I have used this one many, many times with personal history clients and with family members, some now long gone. The holidays or Christmas are a great time to share and record family memories.

20161223_094142

As I look across my living room I see my mother-in-law’s Christmas tree decorated with perhaps 100 ornaments that we have collected. Most have a special story – the pink one from Bermuda, the trolley from San Francisco, the round ornament with the great image of a bird we bought with my father-in-law at that birders’ shop on Cape Cod.

20161222_14133920161222_14154420161222_141352

The Christmas season is a great time admire an ornament and ask, “Is there a story behind that ornament?” Perhaps it is old, a child’s photo from an early Christmas or an ornament that has been passed down through the family for two or three generations.

20161223_09424820161222_14155420161222_183631

Some of the ornaments were presents from a lifelong friend. “Tell me about your friend, where did you meet?”

20161222_14133120161222_141310

While you are visiting friends during the holidays you may be offered cookies or other treats. “This tastes great, what is this cookie called? Do you have any special memories of making cookies with your mom? What did you make? What did it smell like?”

For me, music has always been part of my life. This is especially true during the Advent Season. As a teenager, I would go caroling with a group from my church. We would walk around New Freedom and stop and carol at the homes of shut-ins, people who could not easily get out to church. It was often cold, but it was joyous. Sometimes we just sang, received thanks, smiles and then we moved on.  Quite often though, we were invited in for cookies or a cup of cider or hot chocolate. We visited and warmed up a bit but had to move on, we still had quite a few stops and more carols to sing. “Do you have any special traditions that you and your friends did every year? Do you have a favorite Christmas carol?

20161218_135218

When I was growing up my grandmother lived nearby. My grandmother owned a farm going down the hill from her house. She lived in a regular house at the top of the hill, but there was a farm-house and a big barn down the farm lane. To the right of the barn, she, my dad and my uncles had planted a grove of pine trees to prevent a steep section of the hill from eroding.

One of my special memories was going down the hill with my dad and one or more of my brothers and picking out our Christmas tree from the pine grove. This was a big thrill.  My father still has the same saw, hanging in his shed, that we used to cut down those trees decades ago. I remember the fresh scent of the pine needles and the pine sap that would always get on our hands and our coats. We would help dad carry or drag the tree out of the wood to the car. We would also cut sprigs of pine boughs and holly that my mom would use to decorate our home. “How did you decorate your home for the holidays?”

We would go over to my grandmother’s house a week or two before Christmas and set up her Christmas tree, we got out her ornaments, the lights, perhaps some garlands and tinsel.

On Christmas Day, we would wake up early at our house. We would run down the stairs to get our stockings, they were hand-knitted by one of my aunts. We were allowed to open these early, before my parents were up and ready for breakfast. There always was a comic book or a classic comics book stuffed in the top of the stocking. Since I was one of four brothers, we would always read ours first and then trade them around.  This was a brilliant “delaying” tactic by my parents, to keep us quiet and engaged for a while so they could grab five more minutes of sleep, get a cup of coffee or tea, brush their teeth, and get a few special treats ready for Christmas breakfast. It also helped to distract us from those “other” presents piled around the tree. “What was it like when you woke up Christmas morning?”

We had a great time opening presents as a family, then later around eleven o’clock my parents would drop my three brothers and me off at my grandmother’s house. I suspect this was to allow mom time to prepare food for Christmas dinner and dad some time to clear away the debris from the unwrapping, hmmm… what did they do with those two hours while we were at grandmother’s? Perhaps this is a new question I need to ask my parents?

My grandmother would always have a few presents for us around her tree. Sometimes my aunt Mary would be up visiting with grandmother for the holidays, so she would be part of the celebrations. She liked to travel, so there might be a small gift, a toy from another country that we would enjoy throughout the day. After opening gifts, my grandmother served the best sandwiches, some type of tender melt-in-your-mouth beef on buttered bread with the crusts cut off.  I can still taste them. “Did you have other relatives and family living nearby? Did you celebrate together during the holidays?”

Later in day we would have a gathering of three families, our family, my dad’s brother’s family, my dad’s first cousin’s family and of course my grandmother and aunt Mary. We would rotate each year which family would host Christmas dinner. Each family would bring special dishes, the host family would provide turkey and dressing. The ten children would spend time together and the eight adults would gather, perhaps to share memories of Christmas’s past. This is when I wish I had my digital recorder back in the 1960s and 70s and perhaps a camera and a camcorder.

20151204_23253920151123_221952

The good news is that I have been actively recording the Christmas and holiday memories of my parents and my extended family in more recent years. Perhaps this season is a good time for you to ask your friends and loved ones, “How did you celebrate Christmas?”

20161222_14141020161222_141404

For us it is great to have our kids home from college and grad school. We did some shopping together, we saw a movie together, we catch up on each other’s news, retell stories from the past year, and chat about future plans – what’s next? My son played a few songs on the bassoon while I hummed a few Christmas carols. We will have a few upcoming holiday gatherings with friends and family… hmmm… I wonder when I need to put the ham in the oven tomorrow?
20161222_184145

I hope each of you similarly takes time to celebrate the holidays, to visit with friends and family, and to capture and share memories.

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a great new year.

Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian with Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com. He is a board member and serves as the Regions and Chapters Director of the Association of Personal Historians

Advertisements

Happy Holidays

19 Dec

We hope that you have a merry Christmoose.

20161218_135243

It is always great to hear from friends.

20161218_135023-posterize-card-stand

Some of our friends even help us plan seasonal decorations.

20161218_135005-santa-mugs-posterize

20161218_135103

Sometimes even an Elf gets into the act.

20161218_135031-posterize-elf-2

He and other friends usually work on the small tree.

20161218_135146-posterize

While other friends help us with the big tree.

20161218_135218

They did a great job.

20161218_134940-christmas-tree-posterized

We wish you and yours a happy holiday season and all the best in the New Year.

20161215_173901

Bruce Summers is pictured with his daughter in front of the Christmas Tree at the World Bank Group Headquarters in Washington, DC. Bruce is a Personal Historian with Summoose Tales. He is a board member and the regions and chapters director with the Association of Personal Historians

See also:

Merry ChristMoose

Merry ChristMoose

30 Dec

Some clients and colleagues have asked me why I call my Personal History business “Summoose Tales”.

Well way back… one of my brothers decided that Bruce was a good rhyme with Moose. Then one by one, my family and friends decided that a really appropriate gift for me for my birthday and especially at Christmas would be a Moose especially a ChristMoose. And so, the family stories and tales about the various Moose gifts began…

    20151225_092318

I woke up this Christmas morning and what did I see. A wide scattering of ChristMooses looking down the stairs at me.

20151225_113326

20151225_091434_001

I entered our family room to see if Santa had come. Again more ChristMooses were guarding the stockings with care, and yes St. Nicholas had been there.

20151225_091549

20151225_09245520151225_092525

I headed into the living room to look at our tree and found more ChristMooses had been on watch through the night, there were at least three.

20151225_092037

I looked over at our Manger on the near table and yes even there a ChristMoose had been on vigil through Christmas Eve night.

I smiled to myself and took a few photos to share with friends and family around the globe – I hope you had very happy holidays and I wish you all the very best in 2016.

PS. My daughter gave me a copy of, “If you Give a Moose a Muffin” for Christmas:)

Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com

See also Best Wishes for an intriguing 2015

Skills to “Actively Listen” and Record Family Stories during the Holidays?

5 Dec

I am currently reading and enjoying “Skills for Personal Historians 102 Savvy Ideas to Boost Your Expertise” by my all-time favorite, though now retired blogger Dan Curtis.

20151204_231318

Full disclosure, part of the reason I bought the book was to see how he referenced my story about “Joe and Helen“, page 186. I emailed this story to Dan in response to one of his blogs.

I have been browsing through the book, and yes there are “102 Savvy Ideas”. I recently re-read Dan’s first chapter on “Interviewing Basics”. Well, I am a pretty good interviewer.  I have been recording family stories, life stories, human interest, news stories, good practices and even lessons learned stories for over 30 years. But, Dan Curtis had a lot to share. Some of his savvy ideas I already knew.  Others, especially mistakes we learn along the way, brought out an inward smile… yep, been there, done that. Hopefully I have learned from these.  But, there were also some great new ideas that he had codified through experience and extensive study of his craft – both from interviewing and what I would term as “active listening”. These great new ideas, provoked reflection. In my mind’s eye, I kept visualizing on how I could better hone my craft.

The following are a few of Dan’s ideas from his book. These are followed by my reflections. For Dan’s specific content you should buy the book.

  1. The Secret to a Successful Life Story Interview
  2. Good Reasons to Ditch the Laptop and Handwritten Notes
  3. Are you Creating a Supportive Milieu for your Personal History Interviews?
  4. Action Steps to a Good Life Story Interview
  5. Have You Ever Found Yourself in This Embarrassing Situation?
  6. How to Get the Stories in a Life Story Interview
  7. Secrets to a Great Interview
  8. How to Boost Your Interviewing Skills
  9. What I’ve Learned about Getting “Truthful” Interviews
  10. Do You Make these Interviewing Mistakes?

This chapter has a ton of great content for those of us who serve as Professional Personal Historians. I think it also has great value for friends and family members who hopefully will make and a resolution to actively listen and record loved one’s stories during the holidays.

A few thoughts…

  1. Find where the voice recording app is on your Smart Phone, remember that you usually have this in your pocket when you see a friend, or loved one.  Schedule an hour to – actively listen, to this friend or loved one. Think about 2 or 3 key questions or stories you always wanted to ask, or a great story you have heard but no-one has recorded it. If practical, you may want to invest in a digital voice recorder that you can carry in your pocket or your pocket-book.  Test the voice recorder or the voice recording app ahead of time so you know how it starts, pauses, stops, save, etc. Find a quiet, comfortable place, sit down, start chatting, and then gradually shift to some of the questions you really want to ask and turn on the recorder.

20151204_232539

2. The nicest thing about a voice recorder or app is that you can put all your focus on actively listening to the story, making eye contact, nodding quietly, and smiling.  My eyebrows go up and my eyes smile when I am hearing a personal story.  By actively listening, smiling, and nodding I get to hear fascinating stories from my clients, friend and family members. You can do this too.

3. I love Dan’s word – Milieu. Make your narrator comfortable, put them at ease. I often interview my parents after breakfast, lunch or dinner.  I bring some treat from the Swiss Bakery to others.  A personal historian colleague told me the story of how she unplugs the noisy refrigerator or freezer and then puts her car keys in the freezer before the interview. Ok, I bit, why? So that she will always remember to turn the fridge back on before she leaves.  She turned it off so it wouldn’t rattle or gurgle during the interview.  It is harder to drive away, and leave the fridge turned off, if your car keys are still in the freezer. The down side is your keys are really cold when you get ready to leave.

20151204_232929

4. Prepare ahead of time, perhaps chat about potential questions for mom, with dad or Uncle Julio ahead of time. Text your daughter or your siblings to ask them what stories they really want to have recorded. Send an email to Great Aunt Sue to gather a bit of insider research before your interview. I usually write out a few outline notes ahead of time. I take a quick glance at these before I go out the door.  I think about the stories, or the chapter that we will work on today as I drive over the river and through the woods to my mom’s house, to Joe’s condo. and especially during that long drive early in the morning out to that remote county where my client lives.

5. It is a good idea also to have a checklist of what equipment needs to be charged ahead of time and what you need to carry with you in the car. Yes, I have left the house without my voice recorder and once found that my voice recorder was full when I was ready to start recording.

6. This is a great section in Dan’s narrative… “Is the story intriguing? Am I drawn in? Am I delighted…? If the answer is no, then gently redirect the interview”. Everybody has stories to share, actively listening, with periodic nods and an occasional redirection can make it an even better story.

10470171_790404754323810_1159196822803293323_o Jane Summers talks about her grandmother Lizzie, she made quilts for all nine grandchildren

7. Two lessons I have learned. If you are interviewing a couple, then chat with them for a while to determine whether you should interview them together or whether you should first interview them separately.  With my parents, it depends on the topic. Sometimes one will listen and nod while the other is talking, and then sometimes they can’t help themselves they have to jump in. This interrupts the flow of the story. I often find it helpful to interview one by themselves and then the other. However, if it is the right topic… “did he really propose?” Then it is  fascinating to hear and record each side of the story together.  I have also learned through doing family “Show and Tell” sessions that you can coordinate a great series of recorded interviews by designating one family member at a time to show a treasured object or photo while sharing their story with the group. These group sharing experiences can be powerful.

8. I love Dan’s examples here about staying on topic and not dwelling on trivial details. Encourage your narrator to build upon the flow of the story.  Sometimes surprisingly rich details will just flow out.  Also, you build up trust the more times you have interviewed someone.  You understand more of the context of the stories.  The narrator know you are eager to listen and to understand and out will come the story of an incident that they have not thought of for 70 years.

20141003_153503 - Tom Summers with three other Lieutenants in Korea about 1952

9. Their story is their story. I have been pleasantly surprised when a fact I thought I knew to be true about one family member, actually belonged to a different family member’s story.  I remembered clearly that my grandmother told me about the lights dimming in the gym when she was playing basketball. This meant they were electrocuting a prisoner on death row at Sing Sing Prison.  My mom corrected me, no… no, that was me when I was in college near Sing Sing. Another time, my client was sure that it was Susie… who got last at the World’s Fair, but a group of three over her children shared, oh, no… it was…!

10. Have I made the interview mistakes that Dan references… yes, these really caused me to reflect.  At one time or another I have made each of these mistakes.  The good news is that we learn from these. The other good news is that we get better and better at interviewing over time.  We learn when to let the interview flow, how to use nonverbal queues to encourage the narrator to continue, and how to actively listen so the story-teller can see we are engaged. They can see that we really want to hear the whole story.  We learn how and when to gently nudge or steer the conversation into a slightly different direction.  They see we are fighting not to laugh out loud, and sometime we just have to laugh with them. Sometimes I just have to saw Wow!

So wish me luck as I prepare to actively listen through the holiday season. I hope each of you will take time to share and record stories with family and friends during the holidays and during many other days throughout the year.

I wish each of you very Happy holidays filled with fun, fellowship and lots of good stories.

—————————–

Bruce Summers is a  Personal Historian with Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com. He also serves as a Board Member and as Director – Chapters and Regions for the Association of Personal Historians

%d bloggers like this: