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

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Happy Holidays

19 Dec

We hope that you have a merry Christmoose.

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It is always great to hear from friends.

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Some of our friends even help us plan seasonal decorations.

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Sometimes even an Elf gets into the act.

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He and other friends usually work on the small tree.

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While other friends help us with the big tree.

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They did a great job.

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

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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

Happy Birthday Walt Disney

5 Dec

There on the wall was the earliest known drawing of Mickey Mouse.

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In the showcase was a one of a kind Oscar with Seven Dwarf Oscars.

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There were early pictures of Walt Disney at work

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The past summer we toured The Walt Disney Family Museum located in the Presidio near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

On display are the Oscars went to Walt Disney the innovator and Producer, not to the Disney Corporation.

So more than a dozen Oscars are displayed in his family’s museum, not in the corporate headquarters.

The Disney Family Museum is more personal, is not corporate, it showcases his vision,

his innovations, the stories and dreams he brought to life.

There are lots of early works

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There are original cells and sketches from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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Images of work on Bambi

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Pinocchio

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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice/Fantasia

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Dumbo

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Peter Pan

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And many more.  I liked how Walt often jumped into the action

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The original sketches and favorite filmed scenes were a joy.

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On a TV Screen I could see the Wonderful World of Disney of my childhood come to life. I could see the original models for Disney World. I could feel the magic.

It is well worth at least a half a day or it can be a full day destination visit. It was one of the highlights of our trip to San Francisco.

Happy Birthday Walt, and thank you.

Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian with Summoose Tales, Summersbw@gmail.com

He rode off on his great aunt’s prize horse to pursue the Johnny Rebels

18 Nov

The following are excerpts from a family letter dated January 12, 1928 recounting a story shared by my great-grandmother Mary Rogers Thomas Summers.

Charles G. Summers, president 1865-1923

My (great-great grandfather), Charles Green Summers, spent his summers at a farm on “My Lady’s Manor” owned by his great-aunt in Harford County, Maryland. It was situated about seven miles from Monkton on the Northern Central Railroad and about thirty miles from Baltimore.  His love for the country was inborn as all of his ancestors were country-bred. He grew from boyhood to early manhood gaining vitality for his arduous work at his studies though the winter months.

When war clouds began to gather in the early (1860’s) he longed to join the men who were drilling and talking of “going south to aid in the impending struggle (the Civil War). (Charles) has often told of the boyish part he tried to take in this terrible struggle, though young and unfitted as were all of the boys of the South, who left Colleges and Universities, Farms and paid truly the greatest sacrifice.

Harry Gilmor, a name still revered in the South, was a Baltimore man who espoused the Southern Cause and his deeds of valor are told in song and story today. When the northern troops burned Governor Letcher’s home in Virginia, his ire flamed into the deeds of destruction and the air rang with the cry “Gilmore is on his way to Baltimore to burn the home of Governor Bradford” which is situated on Charles Street Avenue, a short way out of Baltimore. Mary Rogers Thomas related how, as a girl of sixteen, (I) sat up awaiting his coming, arrayed as if for a ball in (my) Southern RED and WHITE. Many other were ready to welcome the valiant hero’s coming, but older and wiser heads were alarmed at his nearness and his acts of retribution.  He burned bridges and the (railroad) cars on his approach to our city, leavening destruction in his wake along the Northern Central Railroad.  Soon Governor Bradford’s home was a mass of flames and their hearts began to quake as he neared the city.  But he did not molest us further, once his appointed task was completed, as he loved Baltimore, the city of his adoption.

(Charles, about age 17) on his great aunt’s prize horse, stole from the farm and pursued them, hoping to join the “Johnny Rebels” as they were called. But all pursuit was cut off by the wise raider Harry Gilmore, and (Charles) returned, a disappointed boy to the farm, where his father (Joseph Griffin Summers) ordered him “locked up in the meat house” until he could come out from the city and get him home again.

(Charles) came of fighting stock, though, and was forgiven, as his grandfather, Charles Bosley Green, when a boy of eighteen, joined the hurriedly assembled troops who rallied to the defense of Baltimore after (the British) General Ross had ordered the burning of the Capitol at Washington and was marching on Baltimore (War of 1812).

(Charles) great grandfather (Nathan Griffin) was a soldier in the “Smallwood Brigade” and followed Washington in the Battle of Long Island and afterwards in South Carolina until the close of the Revolutionary War.

Notes: By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales. I recently shared parts of this story with my father. He had never heard this story about how his great-grandfather had tried ride off and join Harry Gilmor and Southern Calvary during the Civil War. It was fascinating to learn first-hand from a family story about the split Southern and Northern sympathies of family members and their friends in and around Baltimore, MD during the Civil War.  I grew up just over the Pennsylvania line not too far from the sites of these Southern raids in Baltimore County.  The Northern Central Railroad that was attacked by the raiders ran through my home town of New Freedom, Pennsylvania.

See also:

What’s in your basement? Personal Historians want to know, but you might also be curious…

Summers One Hundred Years.

Thanks Dad – Happy Veteran’s Day

11 Nov

My dad, Tom Summers, served in the U.S. Army in Korea as an Infantry Officer on Heart Break Ridge during the Korean War.

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He shared with me and my brothers that he never had to fire his rifle at the enemy during his time on the front lines.

However, one night he could hear the enemy attacking one of the positions, an outpost ridge on the US/South Korean line a few hundred yards away. US/South Korean forces counter-attacked with artillery and more.

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He and others waited to see if their point in the line, if their part of the ridge would also be attacked.

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The enemy was turned back and never approached his section of the line.

The next day revealed that it had been a significant enemy attack in force. It also, revealed that one of my dad’s close friends, they had gone to YMCA Summer Camp together as youth, had been killed during the attack along with a squad filled with men that my dad had previously led on patrols.

It was their outpost at a point of the ridge that had been attacked.

I offer my thanks to my dad, to my brother, to my brother-in-law and to all of our Veterans on Veterans Day for your service to our country.

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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

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