Tag Archives: personal-historian

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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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…

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

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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.

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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.

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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

Save Your Photos Day – September 27, 2014

12 Sep

By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales

I recently learned about Save Your Photos Day – This concept resonated with me. Please share this link with friend, families, and colleagues.

As a Personal Historian I interview clients and help them write and share their personal histories and life stories. I often find/discover photos in drawers, in boxes, perhaps on a wall, in a trunk, in an album, maybe on a CD, or a computer file (with no back-up).

They are often singular records of a moment in time. As families grow and succeeding generations disperse these photos are often at risk.

  • They may be lost in transition, during a rushed move, a down-sizing, or during a disaster such as a flood or a house fire.
  • Will the photo and its context be lost after the client dies. Will it become just a great photo with no story, no history, and no memories connected?

Case 1: Two of my early personal history clients had a combined total of almost 200 years of memories when they died. The good news, I had already interviewed them. I had audio tapes and hundreds of pages of transcripts with their memories and stories. The even better news was that I had re-shot or scanned, edited and digitized over 300 of their photos. The words, from the audio tapes, provided personal and historical context to the photos. The photos animated my clients’ stories and reflections. The photos made my clients’ personal history and memories come alive.

  IMG_3146 Snow in July 2013-07-14 19.50.32 Dinner Bell - Ships Bell - from Mostom house, Jim has it now 7.14.13 IMG_1120 Lloyd as Viking Toddler

I converted these photos into a PowerPoint presentation for use at the couple’s memorial service after they both died last fall. Their daughter used some of the pictures for a photo display at the service. The others were featured as looped slide show next to the display.

As the family personal historian I stood and watched the photos cycle through. A grandson in his 20s watched and asked questions.  His uncle commented, “I have never seen a lot of these”. I could provide context from my interviews and from captions I included in the manuscript of the couple’s personal history.

A few lessons learned:

  • Before the couple died, while they were living in a senior community in nursing care, their family needed to quickly clear out one floor of their home so it could be rented to a friend. Framed photos came down, drawers were emptied, boxes and albums were removed from locations were they had resided for 30 to 50 years. Challenges: the photos could have been lost in transition and in context. The good news: I had already preserved many of them digitally, with their original context and stories.
  • The family had several albums with a year by year history in photos from their father’s 100th birthday celebration. Challenges: there is only one copy and the family is disbursed across the United States and in Australia. The good news: we have over 300 photos that have been digitized and can be shared in context with the extended family.

Case 2: Another client made over 300 quilts after she retired from teaching. Her stories and memories of quilt making came alive as we looked through her album of intricately designed and beautifully crafted quilts. Most of these have been given away to family and friends or donated for good causes. We also recorded her memories of travel and vacations with her now deceased husband. Again the photos animated the stories making these memories come alive.

IMG_4227 Quilt Example IMG_4241 Quilted Sunflowers IMG_4222 Quilt example

A few lessons:

  •  Artists should take photos of their portfolio, organize them, store and share them. Challenge: my client only owns a handful of the quilts she spent thousands of hours crafting, she had a portfolio of pictures but had not shared the stories and details about their creation. The good news: during my interview we digitized and reviewed her portfolio of pictures of many of these quilts. The interview transcripts combined with the pictures provided tremendous insights into this client’s passion and artistic gifts. Looking at the pictures, she was able to recall and share rich details about why and how she created a unique design tailored for each quilt recipient.

Case 3: Making your own personal history come alive. I have recorded over a hundred hours of personal history digital audio tape with my parents, and more recently as part of a Family Reunion Show and Tell. As I start to share these personal history stories I feel compelled to include photos. The good news is that I have started taking more photos when I am in my home town, while I walk around my parent’s home, and as I explore photos and relics in my parents’ basement. The bad news is that most of my parent’s photos are not digitized, many of the older family photo albums have not always been put into context. This photographs are at risk of becoming lost memories and forgotten stories. More good news though my cousins, aunts and uncles brought photo albums to the family reunion including albums collected by their parents, we heard dozens of new stories, collectively we could identify “lost relatives”.  We now know who great-great-uncle William was, the one who died during aunt Margaret’s childhood visit to her grandmother’s house 80 years ago. We also know the same aunt Margaret stole my aunt Joan’s boyfriend. This was all revealed as part of the Family Reunion Show and Tell sessions that I facilitated.

Show and Tell for Family Reunion

Show and Tell for Family Reunion

Charles G. Summers, Jr. Inc. Plant and Office 1925

Charles G. Summers, Jr. Inc. Plant and Office 1929

IMG_4015 Superfine Limagrands

 

A few lessons:

  •  Take lots of digital photos of friends, family, of trips, the seasons of the year, of sunrises, and sunsets, and of important objects that you or loved ones have collected. Re-shoot or scan, edit and file older family photos, connect them with context, stories and memories. Challenges: create a master list of photos that you want to preserve, or that illustrate and provide context or captions to personal history and life stories that you have recorded. Taking the time to do this is often a challenge. Digital photos are easy to take, one trip may yield 200 or more digital pictures and we often forget to go through them and organize or curate the ones we want to preserve and share. The good news is that professional photo organizers and personal historians can help.

Getting Canned!

30 Jul

Getting canned has certain distinct advantages.

 20140712_110818 Looking up the NF Railroad Tracks on Front Street

During my recent family reunion I walked the rail trail in New Freedom, PA and took pictures of the New Freedom Heritage Society murals, one of which showed my dad and uncle…

20140712_110659 Tom and Dwight Summers - NF Mural

  • Getting canned vegetables ready to be processed. The Summers Family was in the vegetable canning business for 118 years.

img103 Summers 100th - Horn of Plenty - Superfine Cans

During my childhood…

  • Getting canned vegetables from the basement for dinner… my mother was deathly afraid of the mice. She was sure they were waiting for her in the basement. We loved canned vegetables. We enjoyed them for dinner all winter and much of the spring. Even better, we could walk or jog down to the canning factory and ask my dad if we could pick out a dozen or so ears of corn, fresh tomatoes, peas or green beans for dinner.

20140712_110802 Local Produce - NF Mural

During my teenage years I worked as a crop inspector. I travelled out to the fields early each morning. I wandered down a row to the middle of a 40 or 50 acre field and collected a random sample of peas or green beans. This was to determine when the field should be scheduled for harvest.

  • Getting canned vegetables scheduled for processing included a few risks. One morning I was moseying down a long row and all of a sudden something flew up near my face. I jumped way back as a pheasant took off right in front of me. I am pretty sure I was more startled than he was. I still remember the incident vividly 40 years later. Then, of course, there was getting the company station wagon stuck in the muddy field. This requiring an embarrassing call to the field office to ask whether and when they could send a tractor to pull me out. It was a bit more fun to clamber up the side of 20 ton tractor-trailer loads of green beans. I had to take a sample of harvested beans to determine quality and how much the farmers would get paid.

During my college years…

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  • Getting canned brownies… my grandmother Summers made the world’s best triple fudge brownies. You could not eat more than two of them at a time. They came in an industrial sized # 10 can, so there were plenty to share with selected friends and hall-mates. Even so, I still had about four days’ worth of mouth-watering deliciousness.

During my Peace Corps volunteer years…

  • Getting canned cookies, the homemade kind that only a mom can make, was a holiday season highlight. They shipped very nicely during the two-plus weeks it took the postal service to ship them to Barbados.

20140712_110719 Onions - NF Mural

Canned vegetables provided jobs or early job experience for hundreds of teenagers in our area. For others like my dad, my uncle, my grandparents, my great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandfather and his uncle and thousands of their neighbors, canned vegetables provided their livelihood and a nice career. They put me through college. They helped me earn money for my first car. They provided a nest egg that I invested and added to; this enabling me to put a down payment on my first home.

For some getting canned is a very bad day. For me it is not bad, not bad at all.

Show and Tell – At the Chichester Family Reunion

21 Jul

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

Many colleagues in the Association of Personal Historians have introduced versions of Adult Show and Tell. The concept is to invite adults or individuals of all ages to bring objects then to have them tell a story about why the objects are important to them.

I decided to adapt this concept for my recent family reunion. We were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first Chichester Family Reunion. We no longer have any of the original Chichesters, my grandmother was the last of her generation, but we still had four of the five surviving cousins from the second generation of Chichesters that were able to join us along with about 80 other family members and in-laws from generations 3, 4 and 5.

I asked each family member to consider bringing objects or photos, things that were important to them, and stories that they could share.

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On the eve of the reunion a few of the cousins gathered at my parents’ house to celebrate my father’s 85th birthday and started sharing stories. I learned from my namesake cousin Bruce that our great-grandfather had been mayor of Piermont, NY, he also showed me his police badge, and perhaps as mayor he also could deputize himself as a temporary police officer. I learned that Bruce’s grandfather met his future wife by wrapping a penny in a piece of paper and throwing it out a train window going through New York City on the way to shipping out to France for World War I.

The next morning I asked my mom whether she had pulled out her “Show and Tell” items. She said she would need at least five days notice to think of what she should “Show” but a five-minute walk around her house yielded a good half-dozen suitable objects. We selected a carved cane and a wooded cane carved by her Grandfather Chichester.

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She also pulled out a quilt made by her Grandmother Chichester and located a number of family photos of her grandparents, her mother, her sister and other family members. This was just what I needed to set up a “Show and Tell” display as a teaser for the main “Show and Tell” event scheduled for the next day.

10556411_790399767657642_307878364499328536_n Jane Summers at Show and Tell - Karen

My mom and her cousins all grew up in the same small town in New York State and their grandparents lived nearby so they shared a lot of collective memories. I was afraid that we might not have enough “Show and Tell” time the next day so we did an early practice version, “Show and Tell” session 1 with my mom and her cousins. A few pulled out old photo albums and family history records and so I gathered mom and her first cousins and had her kick it off by telling a story about Grandma and Grandpa Chichester.

10447771_10204225974314767_3176056181691435408_n Show and Tell Chichester Reunion 2014

They looked at the quilt and confirmed that yes Grandma Chichester was a great quilter. She made a quilt for each of her nine grandchildren and put their names on the bottom, much like the one we used to cover the table. They looked closely at the wooden fan he made; they all remembered him carving and assembling these in his workshop in the garage. Did he start making these after he retired? No, he made these and he wood-burned carved canes his whole life. Many of the cousins still had a quilt, a cane, a fan or all three or had passed one or more of these down to the next generation.

10383847_790399814324304_6316559112438288882_o Richard Chichester made this Cane - Show and Tell - Karen

I then pulled out one of my most precious family heirloom, my grandmother’s “Shadow Box” filled with her special treasures that she kept displayed in her bed room.

10492556_790399844324301_4395276277289917532_n Show and Tell - Grandma Van Zandt's Shadow Box - Karen

This is the personal part of “Show and Tell”. My mom, aunts and uncles looked at each treasure in the box and told me what they knew or what they did not know about the object and shared a few fond stories about my grandmother. The Red Cross badges were from her time as the head of the Red Cross for the town of Pearl River, NY during World War II. She organized volunteers to knit or roll bandages and more. Later my grandmother became a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), building on her Red Cross experience.

I shared my story of thinking I heard her calling to me when I worked in the American Red Cross – Volunteers, Youth and Nursing Department late one night. I had to get up and go check the “dead nurse files” to see if Grandma was in there. Later I learned they only included Registered Nurses so she wasn’t in the files.

There was a horseshoe, a bit of crocheted cloth, a few combs and hat pins, perhaps from her “Flapper” days. A small pin with L.B.C. initials painted on for her mother Lizzie Booth Chichester, and even a mysterious belt buckle with a small bag behind it, to Mimi from Stran that she may have gotten as a gift from my dad’s father, were in the box.

10390114_10204225959834405_357776202003740202_n Terri Bell-Nagle and Jane Summers

It was a great way to introduce the “Show and Tell” concept and to get the story sharing started. More photos came out, pictures of my family, my first cousins, our parents, grandparents, stories about vacations in Lake George, NY, meeting up at Grandma’s for Christmas, then going over to see my grandfather, then back to Grandma’s for dessert with my other cousins.

My Bell cousins’ parents died many years ago, so my cousins could ask my Mom directly what their mother was like growing up. “She was outgoing, always the first to find out the names of the new neighbors and the ages of their children. She was a baton twirler…” to which each and every one of her children expressed, “no way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” They also had a hard time believing that she went canoeing with my mom every summer. But the stories were corroborated by my mom’s cousins. Family history crowdsourcing is a great thing.

After “Show and Tell” session 1 I took time to record additional family stories with my digital voice recorder. This is a handy tool often carried by Personal Historians, well at least for me. I take one with me every time I go to visit my parents, especially for a family reunion weekend that is being held in my parents’ back yard. Several other surprising stories were revealed and gradually leaked or spread to other family members.

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The next morning my wife, my brother and I took an early morning walk along the New Freedom Rail Trail that spans the Mason Dixon Line crossing from Pennsylvania into Maryland.

20140712_110539 Rail Trail Walkers - NF Chichester Reunion 2014

US Presidents rode trains along these tracks. Abraham Lincoln rode along these tracks on his way to Hanover Junction during his trip to deliver the Gettysburg Address.

20140712_110659 Tom and Dwight Summers - NF Mural

Four generations of my family worked at the Charles G. Summers, Jr. Canning Plant located along the tracks, but that is another story and another side of the family.

The hike reminded me more about my family stories and my family roots and I was ready for the next full day of the Chichester Family Reunion. I recorded a few more stories in the morning and prepared for the main session of “Show and Tell” scheduled for 2 pm. Cousins, aunts and uncles had been telling me for a day and a half that they had secret treasures and “Show and Tell” objects back at their hotel rooms that they were saving up for “Show and Tell”. I looked forward to the event and asked one of my cousins to take photos. Thank you Karen, many of your photos are featured in the following. But first we had the family “Chinese Auction” however this also is another story.

As the Auction wrapped up I got cousins to help me set up for “Show and Tell”. I rang a bell to give everyone five minutes’ notice to get out their “Show and Tell objects and photos, and to give us time to set up. My mom and two cousins excitedly asked if they had time to run inside and “freshen-up” before we got started. I said yes, and then other aunts and cousins headed over to their cars and pulled treasures out of their trunks.

Finally we were ready. I explained the rules, each family member has up to five minutes to show their item and tell their story. I assigned a time-keeper and shared that the bell I had been ringing to get people’s attention during the Chinese Auction was a “Show and Tell” item from my son. He volunteered at a National Boy Scout Jamboree. I dropped him off and it was about 110 degrees outside and he looked at me wondering why in the world was I leaving him in this inferno… but he brought back this great bell from the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts and the National Jamboree.

10376745_790403704323915_5052273929439078467_n Peggy Bell Destefano shows a necklace from her grandmother with an M on it from her grandmother Margaret during Show and Tell

My cousin Peggy (Margaret) showed a necklace pendant with an M on it that she got from my grandmother since they shared the same first name.

 

10540635_790403784323907_5699149401697166566_n Margaret Bond shows and tells about keys from her Grandmother Lizzie's house in Piermont.

Another Margaret showed a display box of keys that she saved from a jar of keys her grandmother had collected from their old house in Piermont, NY.

10514734_790403827657236_7111211729005349988_n Margaret Bond shows off the quilted apron made for her by her grandmother Lizzy

Margaret also showed a hand quilted apron her grandmother had made for her.

10525808_790403734323912_8838662133221259672_n Sue O'Hare shows and tells about momentos from her grandmother Catherine Chichester Erickson

Her daughter Sue shared a display case with sewing scissors, needles, buttons, crocheting, and buckles that had also come down through the family from Sue’s great-grandmother.

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

My mom shared that her grandmother was a skilled seamstress and that she had made many of the clothes that her sister and her wore during their youth.

10470996_790404720990480_8366463479178371138_n Robert Cogliati shows preserved images from Aunt Viola's photo album during Show and Tell

Robert showed old family photos that my cousin Craig found in an album when he was helping to clear out his aunt’s basement. These were saved in Archival sleeves. We later compared these photos with others from Margaret’s album from her mother and with photos my mom got from her mother.

10500359_790403894323896_4910736098443802206_n Frank Bell talks about his father taking him and 3 brothers to meet Joe Namath

My cousin Frank showed a picture and shared a great story of going with his father Bennie, his brothers Greg and Bobby, his mother, and some of Bennie’s English students to visit Joe Namath in his penthouse. One of the ninth grade students that went along was Bob Costas who wrote up the story for their school newspaper. Frank told us, “I still have a copy of that story, his questions then sound just like the questions he asks now as famous sportscaster. This was during the spring of 1968, as we were getting ready to leave we wished Joe good luck in the Super Bowl.” He added that this was before the season started that lead to the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl over the then local team the Baltimore Colts. Frank and the other New Yorkers laughed knowing my family had been avid Colt fans. I remember this painful loss, Broadway Joe promised the Jets would win over the heavily favored Colts.

10551028_790404617657157_5385155620284148865_n Bruce Summers Mike Summers telling stories about Uncle Ralph

This started a round of stories by at least a dozen other family members. My brother Mike shared the story about how my grandmother would have the nine “Chichester” cousins over to their house at Thanksgiving and was meticulous about counting the silver afterward, everyone had to check the trash etc. to make sure none of the silverware had been thrown away.

10482010_790404650990487_4185524465545395222_o Uncle Ralph thinking about those silver spoons he hid from Aunt Margaret

Well one year they counted up the silver and went through all the trash but one silver spoon was still missing. Finally little Ralph, the youngest cousin confessed that he had hidden a spoon in his pocket just to see what would happen. At the current reunion he reached into his pocket and pulled out another silver spoon and said to my mom, you better count your silver.

Well the Family Reunion version of “Show and Tell” was a big hit. I came back with forty digital audio tapes. We posted hundreds of new and historic family photos on a special family Facebook site. We learned that my Aunt Margaret sort of “stole my Aunt Joan’s boyfriend.” We learned my great grandmother’s ironing board was always kept by the garden gate on weekends so it could be used to carry injured bathers to the hospital who did not know the Hudson River was tidal and hurt themselves jumping off the pier. We also solved the mystery of who Uncle William was, the uncle Aunt Margaret saw stretched out on her grandparent’s billiard table when she peeked in the room after he died. I wonder what we will show and tell at the next reunion?

Update June 28, 2017:

The next Chichester Family Reunion is in two weeks. This one will be a bit different as my Mom and one of her Chichester first cousins recently passed away. My Mom hosted most of the reunions at her home during the past 40 plus years. I likely will be thinking about Mom when we reprise “Show and Tell” as one of the reunion activities. I look forward to learning and sharing more family treasures – objects, photos, and especially stories, plus it will be great to see everyone again. Let me know, your thoughts if/when you try “Show and Tell” at your family reunion. – Bruce

 

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

29 Dec

Bruce Summers, SummooseTales, Inc. is a member of the Association of Personal Historians

The Holidays and the start of the new year are a great time to do some exploring or cleaning out… a few recent basement finds – I took a quick look through my parent’s basement during December and the holidays, I found…

  • An old piano (out of tune) that we bought for something like $5 from the old New Freedom Elementary School (we had to take the frame off the door and the lid and wheels off the piano, then used the muscle of 5 strong teenage boys and my dad to muscle this piano down the steep outside cellar steps into the basement – it may never come out)

IMG_4018 New Freedom Elementary Piano

  • My grandmother’s sewing kit, a floor mat from my parents for boat – Summers’ Dream, a wicker basket that held toys for children and grandchildren

 IMG_4035 Grandma's sewing box, Summers Dream, Toy Wicker basket

  • A mystery box with correspondence from the 1880s from my great-grandfather (will need to explore that one in more depth)

IMG_4031 B 1880's Dwight Stone's correspondence in box

  • My father’s slides from his time as a second Lt. on Heartbreak Ridge during the Korean War… (I did a voice recording of his narration as we looked through the first three trays of these slides)

IMG_4016 Korea Slides

  • A Superfine picture of a can of Limagrands (my family was in the vegetable canning business for 118 years) – See Summers 100 Years

IMG_4015 Superfine Limagrands

  • The wooden wine glass holder that I made for my dad 40 years ago to attach under the basement steps (hmmm… I might need to borrow that for my own home). My dad is still using the same electric belt-sander that I used to make the wine glass holder. It is sitting in the same spot in the basement since we moved in – in 1966 (I remember using this on dozens of school project and to make my own Cricket Bat when I came back from the Peace Corps in 1984).

IMG_4024 Belt Sander - Grinder and fire truck

  • Not in the attic but in my dad’s filing cabinet was the original pencil drawn diagram of the Prisoner of War Camp used to house German Prisoners in Stewartstown, PA during World War II… but that’s another story.

I encourage you to checkout what’s in your basement or your parents’ or grandparents’ basement or attic or that bottom desk drawer, then ask them about and record the stories connected to these items and related memories, you’ll be glad you did. (Hmmm… I guess I should call my dad and ask him why he keeps a toy fire engine by the belt grinder)?

This is a second in a series of blogs about basement finds, earlier I wrote… There were two mice, different generations, two different houses, three hundred yards apart…

  • I recently recorded a few updates to this mouse story.  My mom shared… An exterminator or similar service provider was checking our basement, this was perhaps around  1960 or 61 and said… “Did you know you had a rat in your basement?” Well this was enough for her to promote my older brother to head of the Summers Laundry as a 5 or 6-year-old since the washer and dryer were in basement. I also received a promotion to head of canned vegetable procurement as my mom now trusted me as a 4 or 5-year-old to go down to the basement to bring up canned vegetables for dinner.  This was in our home on Singer Road. Note: I recently rediscovered one of the old wooden bar stools from one of my parent’s former houses, I can just about picture my Mom perched high on top of this stool waiting for my Dad to come home to address a mouse or rat issue.

IMG_4023 B Bar stool from Singer Road

  • A bit of back story…  My mom explained that our first home on Third Street in New Freedom, PA also had a significant mouse problem… though possibly no rats. My dad’s first cousin had a large black walnut tree and of course black walnuts benefit greatly from being given a few months to dry out before opening.  My dad, having been married just a few years, thought that the attic would be a perfect place to dry black walnuts. Well, evidently the field mice, or perhaps they were regular house mice or more specialized walnut mice fairly quickly decided that my father was not really keeping up with his chores, since he was busy with the peak season for vegetable canning at the Summers Canning Factory, so they volunteered to turn the walnuts over each night, while my parents were trying to sleep.  My mom was less than pleased to hear the walnuts rolling around in the attic.  I was an infant and my older brother was just 2 or 3 at the time, we were not really bothered, I heard on the radio today that “white noise” such as this might even be calming, perhaps I found it soothing as I was taking my many naps during the day and sleeping through the night, though I admit I have no memory of the rolling walnuts.  My mother was even less pleased that the mice sometimes got lost on their way to and from the attic and found their way into the interior of the house, this prompting a call to my father.  He on the other hand is very proud of the fact that he trapped a record 23 mice in that house in one year. Long story short – my mom perhaps earned her phobia of mice honestly during her first 5 or 6 years of marriage.

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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