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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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?

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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.

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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?”

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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?
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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

60-Year-Old Entrepreneur’s Gaming App Makes History More Fun

15 Sep

Love this Late Blooming Entrepreneurs Blog by Lynne Strang

 

History class could become a lot more interesting thanks to a new gaming app. Avery Chenoweth, 60, and a 65-year-old partner started Here’s My Story to make history and geography come alive b…

Source: 60-Year-Old Entrepreneur’s Gaming App Makes History More Fun

9/11 Memories +15 years

12 Sep

Close to 1,000 people lined up to donate blood at Red Cross Square in Washington, DC on 9.12 and 9.13. I was the end of the line greeter for these spontaneous blood donors for more than 12 hours.

Source: #911 Memories +15 years

#911 Memories +15 years

11 Sep

Every Red Cross Chapter and Blood Services Region received hundreds, if not thousands of spontaneous volunteer offers on 9/11/2001 and during the following weeks.

Close to 1,000 people lined up to donate blood at Red Cross Square in Washington, DC on 9.12 and 9.13. I was the end of the line greeter for these spontaneous blood donors for more than 12 hours.

I remember the pilots and flight crew members. They were stranded in Washington along with passengers. All flights were grounded by the FAA. They joined the line to give blood.

I remember the Arab American Businessmen, also stranded in D.C. after their conference. They also joined the line to give blood and to show their support.

I remember the construction crew, they, like many other workers, were given the day off. Their company said, go over to the Red Cross and donate blood.

I remember the teachers and aides I knew. They had been preschool teachers for both of my children. They also came to donate. We chatted, one stayed in line and the others went and bought me a sandwich and a drink for my lunch.

I remember the father who stopped in to bring bags of loose change and bills, money that his children had spontaneously collected from neighbors so the Red Cross could help the victims of 9/11.

I remember the tourists from Europe, they did not speak English, they had never donated blood, but they wanted to support America in this time of need.

I remember the relief crew of doctors and technicians arriving from John’s Hopkins and from other Blood Services Regions to provide respite to the large crew of technicians that had been collecting volunteer blood donations for hours.

Around 7 PM we told the last 100 people in line that we would not be able to take blood from everyone. They were given forms to fill in. They could come back the next or we could contact them to make an appointment to donate at a later date.

Many left, but the last woman in line said emphatically, I will be last. I am not leaving. I was a firefighter. I want to support the firefighters and police and rescuers who were killed. It was after 9 PM when she finally donated.

We also had hundreds of American Red Cross volunteers and employees in Washington, DC supporting the response and recovery to 9/11. Quite a few of those volunteer blood donors left the line to help out as spontaneous volunteers helping with the Blood Drive.

Others were lining up nurses around the country to help with shelters for people displaced by 9/11 and to help with families of victims. Red Cross chapters were also helping to shelter and to provide food and comfort to the thousands of people stranded in towns and cities across the US when the planes were grounded.

Across the Potomac River local American Red Cross volunteers and employees worked with partner agencies to provide food and drinks for the response workers at the Pentagon crash site. We could still see the smoke for days afterwards.

In New York, the theaters were closed. Many actors and artists also volunteered to help in the shelters, entertaining children and families to provide some distraction as they dealt with their losses and the deaths of loved ones.

On this 15th anniversary, I would like to say thank you to the fifty thousand plus volunteers and employees of the American Red Cross. I would also like to say thank you to the hundreds of other response agencies, the police, the firefighters, the military, the municipal workers,the actor s and artists and to millions of Americans to came together to help on 9/11 and the following days, months. You made a difference.

This blog is by

Bruce Summers, a Personal Historian at Summoose Tales, Board Member, Regions and Chapters Director, Association of Personal Historians, summersbw@gmail.com 

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Why I go to the Association for Personal Historians (APH) Conference

29 Aug

I love my work as a Personal Historian.  Every Friday I drive out to Carl’s house.  We work all day on a current or emerging chapter of his autobiography.  I read through and organize his ref…

Source: Why I go to the Association for Personal Historians (APH) Conference

Why I go to the Association for Personal Historians (APH) Conference

29 Aug

I love my work as a Personal Historian.  Every Friday I drive out to Carl’s house.  We work all day on a current or emerging chapter of his autobiography.  I read through and organize his reference files of letters, trip reports, and work checklists.  We talk through the outline for the next section of the chapter, I record his thoughts and listen to related stories. We discuss and relive particular incidents and anecdotes.  We chat about minor characters and major characters in his life story.

For online chapters I add links to places he has lived, visited or trekked to.  We review photo slides that may be included to bring his personal history to life.  I work at home on scanning and archiving his materials so they can be referenced in the autobiography as threaded links, also so that his descendants can explore his rich trove of family history.

I go to the Annual Association for Personal Historians Conference as part of my ongoing professional development. This year’s conference will be held in Fort Worth, TX from Oct. 23-27, 2016, (Program Highlights). Members from around the globe attend each year, like me they come…

To Learn – There are amazing workshops, plenary sessions, and fascinating keynote speakers each year.

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To Ask Questions – Some of these are specific to my current personal history projects. Some are a follow-up to a workshop that I just attended. Some are spontaneous topics that emerge as we talk.  APH members are extremely generous with their time and with sharing their expertise.

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To Network – Sometimes over coffee or during a group meal with new friends.

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To Be Inspired – We often go on a tour of the city we are visiting. We also have an interesting Public Facing Event and several thought provoking keynote speakers.

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To Kibitz – I have met and had meaningful conversations with well over 200 of my peers.  Sometimes I meet them in the hall, or talk with them before or after a workshop. I had great conversations during bus tours and during morning runs or walks.  APH members are very collaborative. We love sharing and discussing what works, what doesn’t and helping each other problem solve. I like meeting new members and talking with experienced members.

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I am looking forward to this year annual conference. It is my best opportunity to learn a new target set of tips and tricks of the trade that I can incorporate into my personal history work with clients like Carl.  The early bird deadline for Conference Registration is August 31, 2016.

Related:

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

How many reasons do you need – to write your life story?

This WordPress Blog is by Bruce Summers, Personal Historian Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com. Bruce is a board member and Regions/Chapters Director of the Association of Personal Historians

Waking up to the invasion

18 Jun

“All Grenadians come to arms, we are being invaded by hostile forces,” blared the radio in my tiny house in Barbados.  I was jarred awake, I looked around, it was early morning, the sun was not up yet.

I listened carefully. I always left the radio on overnight in my tiny house where I lived during my three years serving in the Peace Corps.  The Barbados radio station signed off about 11 PM each night.  I awakened when the station came back on the air each morning. This was how I started each day.  Listening to the radio, I would then open my double doors and sit out on a metal chair on my porch.  I would look out on the row of cabbage palms across the lawn of the great house of my landlord. My tiny house was one of four rental units on his property in Belleville, St. Michael, near Bridgetown, the capital.

As I looked at the tall stately cabbage palms watching the neighborhood come alive, I often saw a small flock of parrots up on the tops of the trees.  If I sat very still, sometimes a small green lizard would crawl across my foot.  I would listen to the radio, catch up on the news, hear some music, perhaps drink some bay leaf tea and ease into my day.

But today I listened carefully as the Barbados radio station piped in a live feed from Grenada’s national radio station urging all citizens to come out and defend the island from unknown hostile forces. I was listening to history being made, a more than mild change of pace for a Peace Corps volunteer on a quiet, peaceful, beautiful Caribbean island. What’s going on, I pondered.

Grenada is about 150 miles from Barbados.  By air on a BWIA island hopping airplane it was about 23 minutes and most of this time was taxiing. In October of 1983, things were coming apart. A revolutionary (communist leaning) government had taken over Grenada in a coup in 1979. During October of 1983, Maurice Bishop, the leader of the revolution government was placed under house arrest and later murdered.  Many Barbadians had close friends or family in Grenada, so these events were much discussed in our local news.  A military wing of the revolutionary government had arrested Bishop, he escaped, but then he and other cabinet members were killed while they were marching in protest.  Some in Barbados conjectured that Bishop had been allowed to escape so the military faction could kill him and get him out-of-the-way.

Compounding what the Barbadians viewed as the “chaos” going on in Grenada was the presence of Cuban military and workers building a long airport runway, that could accommodate the largest Cuban military planes.  Surrounding Grenada, the other Eastern Caribbean islands were all democracies.  So the increasing influence of Cuba in Grenada, combined with the military takeover of the government  was a threat to peace and stability of the other islands.

The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States along with the nations of Barbados and Jamaica appealed to the U.S. Government for assistance.  Secretly the Governor General of Grenada, the titular head of Grenada which was still part of the British Commonwealth, had also appealed to the U.S. for assistance.  The U.S. was also concerned about the safety of a large contingent of American medical students who were studying in Grenada.

At 5 am on October 25, 1983 a combined force from the US, Jamaica and the Regional Security System based in Barbados commenced the invasion of Grenada, the invasion of hostile forces that awakened me via the radio that morning.

The invasion lasted just two or three days, my Barbadian friends and I learned that many of the aircraft being used were flying out of our local Grantley Adams International Airport.  We learned that US, Barbados, and other Caribbean troops were involved, the Grenada radio station was captured, the Cuban military advisors were captured, the medical students and the Governor General were evacuated and Grenada was now secure.  Our Eastern Caribbean Peace Corps office invited us in for a briefing.  We were asked if any of us would volunteer to help deliver humanitarian aid supplies in Grenada.  I was working for the Barbados Boy Scouts Association, so I immediately volunteered.

Fortunately, a few hours later, we got the word that it probably was not a good idea to have U.S. Peace Corps volunteers immediately follow U.S. troops into a country we had just invaded. I was sorry to have missed this opportunity to help, but certainly understood the rationale.

So the invasion was over.  Barbadians and most Grenadians were very happy that the revolution and the communist experiment was over.  There still was a presence of US military planes at the airport for another month or so. I wrote an article about the invasion for my hometown newspaper, a former employer of mine from my days as a newspaper correspondent. Life went on, I spent another year in the Peace Corps.

Thirty three years passed and then a few weeks ago one of my personal history clients, a former Ambassador, talked about how the Invasion of Grenada threatened to disrupt his wife’s work with the State Department. Over lunch I mentioned that I remembered waking up to the invasion.

Bruce Summers, SummooseTales, summersbw@gmail.com is a Personal Historian, a board member of the global Association of Personal Historians and also serves as their Regions and Chapters Director.  He also is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV).

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