Tag Archives: family

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

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Merry ChristMoose

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

1 May

I have been enjoying the Association of Personal Historians blog series 20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History: Association of Personal Historians Experts Weigh In.  Below are nine great reasons with more to come as we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Association of Personal Historians.

For each individual though the reasons will vary.  One of my clients had aging parents – he was 102 and she was 94 when I interviewed them.  Clearly it was time to capture their life stories and personal histories. For him – what was it like growing up on a frontier farm at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century? For her – what happened to your family when the Japanese captured Singapore during World War II?

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Many clients have great stories but they have never written any of them down. What was it like on Heartbreak Ridge during the Korean War?

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

Sometimes you need to clarify the story. Your mother was playing basketball when the lights dimmed? “That was not my mother. That was me. Whenever the lights at our college dimmed, we were pretty sure it meant a prisoner had been electrocuted at the nearby prison.”

Many friends share, I wish I had recorded… my mother’s, my father’s, my grandmother’s, my aunt’s, my brother’s stories. To these I often remark, today is a good day to start recording your own memories or stories.  I take a digital voice recorder or use a voice recording app on my phone every time I visit with my parents.  We always have something to talk about. I am continually amazing how many stories my brothers and I have never heard. My best advice Ask the questions now, if you need help ask a professional personal historian to help.

Part of our value add is that we are skilled listeners.  We want to hear the story from the beginning. People often tell a more complete story to a fresh audience.  We know how to put stories in historical context and how to frame follow-up questions.

Most of us are also skilled writers and editors so we can help to enhance and weave together the stories, caption that box of photos, tie in those old letters and bits of written materials.  For one client I found in his file drawer, of bits and pieces of family history, his high school journal.  It was fascinating to weave this content into his personal history. It included entries about the weather (during the winter in Minnesota in the 1920’s), choring (what you do on a farm every day before and after school and on the weekends), school activities (finalized the essay on…), family activities (our family harvested all of the potatoes ourselves) and extracurricular interests (between studying, walking through blizzards, choring, school…).

20150501_142724 box of old photos

I focus on helping my clients record their stories first.  Sometimes they just want the audio files or the transcripts. The voice recordings can be later used to create books or videos. They can also be added to online family story archives that other family members can view or interact with.

It is crucial though to record the stories now since we never know when someone will have a life event that will prevent a friend or loved one from sharing their stories.  I have had several family members and friends who have struggled with loss of short-term or even long-term memory making it harder to remember or share key details of their stories.

How many reasons do you need – to write or record your family history?  Below are great blogs from amazing Personal Historian colleagues. We are ready to help.

#1. You’ll feel wiser (by Susan T. Hessel)

#2. First person narratives and family histories are important historical documents (by Joan Tornow)

#3. You are an important person. You have things to pass on, to your children, to your local history society, to unknown future generations (by Jill Sarkozi)

#4. You and your family are important to somebody, probably many somebodies (by Jane Shafron)

#5. Family trees are abstract. Stories add depth (by D. Fran Morley)

#6. Memories over time become fragmented and distorted. People may not remember the things you told them but did not write down (by Deborah Perham) Bonus post! (by Rhonda Kalkwarf)

#7. Writing your family history gives you the chance to depict your ancestors how you see fit (by Susan Terrill-Flint)

#8. There is a need for diverse family histories about those who have not been represented well in history texts (by Elisabeth Pozzi-Thanner)

#9. There is a need for more family histories documenting female lines (by Shannon Stallone)

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

Fall Chores in New Freedom, PA

6 Oct

By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales

20141003_141412 Fall Chores - Bruce and Dad - Taking down awning - Summers House - New Freedom

I missed my mom’s 84th birthday last week. I had to work so I could not celebrate with her in person.  I called her and confirmed that I was coming up to visit the next day to take her to lunch. Mom mentioned casually, “we may have a few chores for you to do.” I smiled inwardly and said that will be okay, you have me all day.

Mom and Dad looked great when I arrived. They are still in their house in New Freedom, PA, the home I grew up in. We asked Dad if he wanted to join us for lunch, but he said no, you go ahead, I have a few things to do.

20141003_143151 Jane and Tom on back patio in New Freedom

Mom and I had a short drive over to one of her favorite restaurants in Shrewsbury, PA. I had a Blue Cheese Burger and she had the Crab Dip with Pita Bread. We had a nice time catching up on family news.

Then it was time to drive back to her home and get down to business. “Dad has a few chores for you,” she mentioned. I smiled in anticipation. Sure enough dad was up by their pool in the back yard. We headed on up. Mom pointed out a beautiful red flower my cousin Larry had given her during last summer’s Family Reunion.

20141003_123612 Flower from Larry Bell - Summers House - New Freedom

My dad at age 85 still enjoys doing chores and yard work. Perhaps not every day, but especially when he has one of his four sons or some of his grandchildren home to get a project done. He was re-arranging sand-filled bags around the pool cover. Project one was to help fold in the cover a bit and help him re-position the bags.

It is fall so project two was putting away the furniture around the pool and the gazebo. But first we needed to rearrange the garage a bit. We shifted a table and the pool blanket a bit. We made sure the chair covers were on top and easy to access.

Then I got started carrying furniture down the steps from the pool to the garage. My mom was ready to help. My dad suggested it might be better to let Bruce carry things down the steps while she and my dad arranged things in the garage.  Dad did help me bring down the table. “We rest things on top of the table and the chairs,” he shared. My dad is very organized, he visualized the spaces where everything will fit, repeating the pattern from the prior 10 to 20 years.  I nodded agreement and brought down the rest of the chairs.

Project three. “Go ahead and bring the chair in from the front porch,” suggested Dad. These are heavy spring steel porch chairs.  They brought back memories of doing similar chores for my grandmother Summers who lived a few blocks away on High Street in New Freedom.  My brothers, cousins and I got these chairs out in the spring, washed them with soap and water, and then worked in pairs to carry them to her front porch. As an adult, I am proud to be able to haul these chairs by myself, heavy and awkward though they may be.

20141003_135639 Fall Chores - Bringing in Front Porch chairs - Summers House - New Freedom

I asked my dad, “How old are these chairs,” I had been moving them to and from porches for 50 years. “I remember they bought them after we moved to New Freedom,” Dad shared, setting the date range from about 75 to 80 years old.

Two of the porch chairs were arranged next to the table from the gazebo with the third resting upside down on top of the first two. Project four. We were ready to take down the awnings. Dad looked over at the wooden step-ladder. Ah, more memories. How many times did I use that ladder to precariously hop onto my parent’s rough from the top of the ladder so I could clean the leaves out of the gutters or to fetch the Frisbee that got thrown up on the roof by mistake?  Then there was always that slight leap of faith back down onto the top of the ladder, you know the part that modern ladders warn, “do not step on this part”, to get back down.

20141003_142203 Step Ladder - Summers House - New Freedom

Luckily I only needed to go up two or three steps to help take the awnings down, but just looking at that ladder gave me a bit of an adrenaline rush and another inward smile. “Ok, you rest the bottom of the awning on the top of the ladder as you release the latches, I have the other end,” my dad instructed. As usual, this worked great. We folded up the awnings from the screened porch and then carried them together to the garage. We laid them across the top of the table from the gazebo and the porch chairs. “See they fit perfectly,” my dad observed. They fit perfectly to the inch I concurred.

20141003_142420 Summers House - Volleyball net still resting from Chichester Reunion

20141003_142510 Summers House - Asparagus Patch - Fall Season - New Freedom

I put the step-ladder away. “What about the volleyball net,” my mom asked. My dad assured her that my brother would take care of that.  I took a quick look around the yard.  The asparagus bed looked clean and had gone to seed for the winter, as per plan.  The leaves had not started falling yet, so that would be someone else’s chore.  The Pearl River, NY maple tree looked healthy, I had transplanted that from my other grandmother’s home when I was ten.  The High Street maple tree my dad, my brothers and I transplanted with a backhoe from the canning factory was also looking good.

20141003_142548 Summers House - Maple Tree from Pearl River 20141003_142558 Summers House - Maple Tree from High Street and Jane Summers

My mom and I walked out to the front yard so I could get a picture of her by the blue hydrangea in the front garden. The garden looked good. My dad pointed to towering oak tree in the front yard. “That will need to come down before winter,” he shared. He pointed out the crack in the trunk. Then we discussed how they would take it down without crushing the sign post and garden on the corner.  This was another chore for another day.

20141003_142846 ane Summers with Hydrangea closer

Mother’s Day and Memories

9 May

My mom is devoted…to her four sons, her eight grandchildren, her husband (my dad), and to her many nieces and nephews.

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But before this, she was devoted to her mother. I asked her recently to tell me about where and why she chose her first college. She chose a junior college at Edgewood Park, Briarcliff Manor, NY, not too far away, just up and across the Hudson River from Piermont, NY. She was still young, completing high school a year early and started college at not quite age 17.

I asked her why Edgewood Park? “I was only 16 and my parents had just divorced, I wanted to be near home, near my mother, I was concerned about her, I saw her about one weekend a month, she would pick me up in Nyack where the boat would bring us across the Hudson, I would often bring friends with me from college,” she shared.

Her mother was a lively soul; my mom’s college friends remember her well and enjoyed these weekend escapes from college. A seemingly good time was had by all and my mom knew her mom was ok.

At age 18, for her junior year, my mom transferred to a four-year college outside of Baltimore, MD, perhaps thinking enough time had passed, that her mom would be ok, she was working as a nurse, and seemed to have made the adjustment to living alone. I am sure she wrote to her often and of course spent the summer at home with her mom.

During her senior year Mom met my Dad who was also graduating and entering the Army. While he headed off to spend time in Korea, Mom went back home, started working and lived with her mom, and confirmed that she was ok.

After she married and started having kids we would make regular visits to Grandma’s house. My mom was still regularly checking in though it was too far to visit once a month, we would go up or her mom would come down a few times a year. We loved visiting Grandma in her big house with the mysterious rooms, old TV, and the forbidden overgrown “orchard” next door. As we were leaving one day Grandma told me at about age 65, that it was a bit lonely when we were not there, since her friends were getting older and dying.

Later, Grandma moved to our home town, it was great to have her nearby; she would stay with my brothers and me when my parents were away at a convention or at an overnight function. My mom could still keep an eye on her and visit, but a bit more regularly, to see if her mom was ok.

She seemingly was, but she was also getting older, various ailments were starting to slow her down. After a few years Grandma moved in with us. For a while she still was able to “look after us boys” but gradually my mom, my dad and “the boys” started looking after her.

It was hard on my mom, she was fixing special food for Grandma, but sometimes she had an appetite and sometimes not, nothing tasted like anything. This was hard on my mom; she remembered the lively soul who picked her up at the boat landing during college and entertained her friends.

Grandma got into a routine, she had her room, her things, her TV, the run of the house, and she had my mom when she wanted to talk or needed someone to drive her to on an errand or to the hairdresser or to play cards. This lasted for several years, “the boys” finished high school, then college; her health, her energy, and her appetite continued to slowly ebb but my mom’s devotion continued rock solid.

After college I headed off to the Peace Corps suspecting that I was saying goodbye to Grandma, two years seemed like it would be a long time for her, but I know my mom, supported by my dad, would make sure she would be ok. While I was away she entered a nursing home.  They could better take care of Grandma’s physical needs, nutrition, medicine and the hair dressing shop was just down the hall and around the corner. My mom visited her every day. Grandma’s health was somewhat precarious, so my mom hesitated about going away even on a short trip for a couple of days.

Some days Grandma struggled, she seemed to be fading. My mom continued to visit every day.  Then they would figure out a better dose of medicines and Grandma would rally.  I extended for a third year of Peace Corps service and was very pleasantly surprised that Grandma was still with us when I arrived back home.  My mom continued her daily visits, bringing comfort and conversation and being there for her mom.

About ten months after my return Grandma died while I was away at a three-week professional training course. I flew back directly to New York for Grandma’s funeral service and burial. At the funeral in my mom’s home town I sat next to my mom and held her hand.  It was a sad day, but Grandma was at peace after a long but well fought struggle, eased greatly by my mom’s love and devotion to her mother.

Mom and Bruce 2010

I ponder how I will measure up as my parents continue to age slowly but with relative good health. My mom set a pretty high standard.  Thanks Mom for the love, care, concern and devotion that you have modeled and for the values you demonstrated every day.

I hope you have an excellent Mother’s Day and many more.

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Footnote: As a Personal Historian I continue to collect stories from Mom and Dad whenever I see them.  It’s important to get this transfer of knowledge and values… how my mom helped Grandma, how my Grandma visited her mother every Sunday, how my father stopped by to see his mother on the way home for lunch. I will continue to collect and ponder these life lessons.

Bruce W. Summers

Summoose Tales

summbersbw@gmail.com

 

 

Spring Break – my son danced at the wedding

29 Mar

College can be busy, busy, busy especially during the “Spring” semester, which is really the winter semester when you have lots of sub-zero temperatures and more than a dozen snows, and your college does not really believe in closing for snow days or cold days, it’s a busy grind.

So I am guessing Spring Break came at a good time, arguably. The timing was also just right for me and for my son to take a road trip to Dayton, Ohio for my cousin’s wedding.

20140314_153803 Stran, Bryce, Peggy, Mike, and David

This would be my youngest cousin on my Mom’s side one of ten children. His oldest brother and sister are over 20 years older. He has two cousins that are about the same age.

The good news is that all eight of his surviving brothers and sisters, my three brothers and I, and his Aunt and Uncle (my parents) were all able to attend the wedding.

20140314_164906 9 Bells and Kelly

This is perhaps the first time in one or more decades that all 13 first cousins were able to gather in the same state much less the same place at the same time.

We are scattered up and down the East Coast, in Ohio, and Mississippi, busy with work, children, grandchildren, one is retired, some like my daughter are dealing with “Senioritus”, others have children coming and going from college, study abroad, sports, music and the myriad events of busy lives.

So my son and I drove up the day of the wedding. It was a Friday afternoon, lots of time to chat on the way from Virginia to Ohio. He asked me about the groom, his bride to be, he knew he had a lot of Aunts and Uncles (second cousins) but he could not really picture most of them. Family events and reunions help some, but there are so many of them.

He asked, will any of my cousins (his generation) be there? I shared I did not know though my brothers and parents were all coming.

So we pulled up to the hotel, well almost to the hotel, and there was my mom and my youngest brother walking up the drive with a bag of sandwiches, they wanted to get a quick bite before the afternoon wedding.

We had not even gotten out of the car when I started pointing out a couple of his uncles (my cousins). We walked in the door, and immediately saw more uncles and aunts and their spouses and cousins (his generation this time).

Some were dressed up in Tuxes ready to head over to the wedding, some were still in “street” clothes about to head upstairs to change. All were buzzing…

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Lots of hugs and kisses and they started greeting my son by name. Perhaps he wondered, how do they know my name, but they of course (as all cousins do) know all about the next generation, since each one is unique, and besides, they knew he was coming and he was standing next to me and perhaps he does look a bit like I did 35 years ago when we were all young.

So we get to the wedding and we start to gather at the back – two, four, eight, twelve cousins (my generation) and surprising quite a few of his cousins (my son’s third cousins they figured out while getting to know each other). Then we started to slow slip in and “invade” the grooms side, row after row of cousins and spouses, my Mom and Dad, then the next three generations.

While we waited, we felt compelled to snap hundreds of photos of each other, a joyous gathering.

20140314_153840 Frank, Sue, Emily and Terry Bell 20140314_155721

It was a beautiful wedding, then there was the Groom’s side photos, the nine cousins, then with my Mom and Dad, then with me and my three brothers all proud to be there for the happy day.

Finally we all got in various cars and drove to the reception – the photo booth – tons of snapshots, some funny poses, some with costume props.

After a filling meal, then there was dancing. It was not too long before my son hit the dance floor with this aunt or that aunt, two aunts, three aunts or four aunts, many cousins. I think he talked with every aunt, every uncle, most cousins, and several non-cousins who were also there for the wedding.

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20140314_210755 Bells and Summers 31414

I have to admit, his dancing was infectious and many of us joined in and before I knew it I was also dancing with cousins and nieces, celebrating my cousin’s wedding and the reunion of so many family members. It was a grand time.

20140314_202056  20140314_181601 Jane and Tom Summers

Afterwards most of us gathered together again in the hotel foyer/and a side room to continue to share stories and catch up on the extended family news and even though none of us were hungry we somehow finished off 77 out of 80 White Castle cheeseburgers.

The next morning – round three with more stories from my cousins as we shared breakfast, then hugs and kisses as we started to prepare to head back to college, to our homes, and are separate yet connected lives.

My son seemed to enjoy dancing at the wedding as did I, one of my cousins told me 40 years ago, “Just you wait!” Perhaps she was predicting that there would be times for dancing, for weddings, for remembering family stories, and renewing family ties across the generations. Spring Break was over, I dropped my son at college and headed home where my daughter and I are experiencing Senioritus.

 

 

Thanksgiving checklist: cranberry salsa, bread, and the Voice Recorder App.

27 Nov

Tomorrow on Thanksgiving morning my family and I will drive to my hometown in New Freedom, PA. My son arrives there this afternoon, his grandparents are picking him up from the Greyhound bus station on his way back from college for a brief respite before he returns to prepare for final exams.

My brother and his wife will host 16 of us for Thanksgiving. We will bring our renowned cranberry salsa, fresh-baked bread from the Swiss Bakery, and of course my digital voice recorder and my smart phone with the Voice Recorder App.

I know, I know, it can be a bit noisy and raucous around the table with 16 people engaged in eight or more conversations, not the best situation for individual voice recording, but sometimes it is just good to capture the moment, the spontaneous story threads shared, the collective voices of an extended multi-generational family Thanksgiving meal.

I also know that there will be many quieter moments for sharing family lore, sharing family stories, advice and wisdom. (Time to switch on the voice recorder)

As a Personal Historian, I always have my digital voice recorder or my smart phone, with its voice recorder, its camera, and its video recording apps, with me when I know I will see my parents. I know that each visit is a unique opportunity to ask questions and record their stories. Two weeks ago it was 20 minutes on my Mom’s favorite recipes, then 2 1/2 hours from my dad on the Charles G. Summers vegetable canning business that lasted for 119 years. On my Personal History “Bucket List”: well I would love to get him to narrate his “Korean War” slides. A few months ago I heard a new story about his walking down the farm lane to help a farm family with getting in the Hay and other seasonal chores. It brought back memories of my two days helping the canning factory farm crew bale hay as a teenager.

Past Thanksgiving projects…
Each year for Thanksgiving, while my Mom was busy getting the turkey in the oven and various food items prepared, my dad would organize a Thanksgiving “Project” for me and my three brothers. These projects were usually 4 to 6 hours, usually involving physical labor such as cutting firewood, but my favorite was the Thanksgiving we took down the old barn on the back farm. (I am not sure we got the whole thing down on Thanksgiving but it was all down by the time Thanksgiving weekend was over. We salvaged much of the barn siding, cut off the rotted sections and repurposed it to serve as paneling to “finish” my parents’ basement.

This year’s Thanksgiving projects:

  • Record – Five or      more new family stories
  • Explore – What’s in the basement?
  • Enjoy – Time      with family.

I wish each of you a great Thanksgiving. I hope each of you enjoys quality time with your family.

Recommended Thanksgiving Checklist:

  • Check your Smart      phone for the Voice Recorder APP.
  • Take an hour to      record a few family stories.

It is never too soon to start recording original family stories with loved ones. If you wait too long to get around to it… well then it might be a bit too late. Let me know if took on this Thanksgiving Project?

 

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