Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving – Show and Tell

17 Nov

By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian – SummooseTales

Thanksgiving is getting closer day by day. Trader Joes already has turkeys — sell by December 5. Last week I bought the requisite bag of cranberries remembering back to when they used to sell out before Thanksgiving perhaps 20 years ago. I picked up an orange and a red pepper yesterday, these are the additional ingredients for cranberry salsa. I also picked up a quart of low-sodium chicken stock, just in case we needed it for the stuffing recipe.

 20141117_135036 Cranberries

We are hosting the Thanksgiving meal this year, so we also worked this weekend getting the house ready. I moved the Personal History client files, archives, and albums from my dining room office, where I can spread them out, review, edit or scan, back to the guest bedroom office.

This all started me to think about starting a new tradition, trying a Thanksgiving – Show and Tell. Building on my successful experience with Show and Tell for a recent Family Reunion, I reflected that the primary element needed for a successful Show and Tell are Family and Friends who share stories which are recorded.

So this is my Thanksgiving – Show and Tell checklist:
• Equipment – have a digital voice recorder, charged and ready. Many smart phones also have a voice recording app if the digital recorder is not available.
• For some of my Association of Personal Historian colleagues – video recording is also a good option.
• My children will be back from college for Thanksgiving so they can share their unique stories about recent or past adventures.
• Family and Friends have also been invited to join us for the Thanksgiving meal.
• Similar to Show and Tell for Family Reunions I will need to cordially invite everyone to bring an object, a photo, or and album and especially one or more stories that they will talk about for 5 or so minutes.
• An object or photos are not required but they give us an opportunity to share a bit of family history and a story or two or three. Example: What’s the story behind the display case of N-Gauge trains?

20141117_113430 Train Display

• The Thanksgiving Table may display a unique table-cloth or dishes and serving bowls. Does anyone know the story behind the salt and pepper shaker, the HOC glasses, and what about the table itself? What are the stories and what are the origins of these items?

20141117_113908 Salt and Pepper - Dutch20141117_113742 HOC Glass

• Then there are the unique foods and side dishes. Why do we have sauerkraut, and why does the pot need to stay in the kitchen and not on the table?
• Is there a tradition of sharing what we are thankful for? How did this start?
• My favorite questions for my mom or my dad or my in-laws – what was Thanksgiving like for your family when you were growing up? Where did you celebrate? Who participated? What foods do you remember? Example: my mom was a finicky eater. So as a youth she always got one of the wings from the turkey with lots of skin.
• Were there any special traditions for Thanksgiving Day? Examples: When did the turkey go in the oven? Did you watch the Macy’s Day Parade? In my family growing up, there was the tradition of the annual Thanksgiving project. Since I was one of four boys, perhaps this was a way my dad could keep us busy and out of the house while mom was busy getting things ready – the food, the table, straightening up the house so at least temporarily it did not look like four rambunctious boys lived there with gym bags, books, papers, and toys spread around.
• Remember the time we helped tear down the old barn on the back farm? Was that really a Thanksgiving Project?
• Sometimes it is good to ask about smells and tastes? For me there was the smell of the turkey roasting. I wanted to watch my mom baste the turkey, but really I just wanted to take in that heavenly smell. With my own family, for some strange reason I look forward to the smell of lemon pledge, endust or other anti-dust spray. I like to walk around dusting, mind you this is only once or twice a year, all the wood surfaces, the chairs, furniture, cabinets, and tables on Thanksgiving Day. Well maybe I will share this joy with one of my children this year, or maybe not.

20141117_134936 End Dust

• Show and Tell works best if you block or designate a specific time for formal sharing. Perhaps during that hour gap between finishing the main meal and serving desserts. On the other hand you may also need to schedule a bit of an interlude for clearing the table, putting the food away, and washing up. In our family we may also need to shoehorn it in between the annual Scrabble game and watching a movie together, sometime these go on concurrently.
• If possible gather in one room, have people bring out their objects or photos. Note some people will keep these secret until the designated time to share.
• Designate ahead of time someone to take pictures during the Show and Tell.
• The role of the Personal Historian or facilitator is to start and stop the digital recorder to capture each unique story. Make sure people say their name, make good eye contact, and nod encouragingly. Be a good listener and ask follow-up questions, if needed.
• Be prepared to kick things off by showing an object or a photo and telling your own short story.

IMG_4015 Superfine Limagrands

• Be prepared for surprises, that others may want to embellish the story or provide context, also that spontaneous stories will pop up that are not connected to a picture or an object. Perhaps a story about little Ralph and the missing silver spoon.
• At the end thank everyone, and think about how you will share the recordings and pictures with everyone, and how you and other family members can combine these stories into your family history.
• Bonus: You may find a quiet time during Thanksgiving or the Thanksgiving weekend to…
o Do a one on one interview with your mom, dad, aunt, uncle or family friend. You might find out about why your mom was afraid of mice.
o Surreptitiously wonder down to check out what’s in the basement or the attic.
o Walk around the house and take a few pictures of unique family objects that may have additional stories.

I hope everyone has a story filled Thanksgiving. Please consider trying Show and Tell.


Thankgiving Weekend update

2 Dec


It was great to have my son home a few days from college. We met up with him in my home town of New Freedom, PA. He was over visiting with his cousins, but came back to my parents’ house to throw the Frisbee with me, his cousin, and his sister in my parents’ back yard. Lots of room, but we did have to call out the occasional warning to look out for the volleyball poles. He had chatted the day before with his grandfather while catching a ride from the bus station in Harrisburg, PA. When he saw me he shared, “Pop Pop was telling me about his time at the McDonough School, you need to record that story?”

This reminded me of course to check and see if my trusty digital voice recorder was in my pocket. Recording Personal and Family Histories is now pretty well expected whenever I see my parents. Sure enough on Friday at lunch I did have a chance to capture a few stories from my Dad and got a copy of the small booklet that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Charles G. Summers, Jr. – family vegetable canning business going back five generations.

I recorded about 30 minutes of stories with my Mom. I found out about the older girl that lived with her family for a few years and who taught her to dance. Perhaps more important I recorded new material about my Mom and mice. There was much more to the history than I knew before with several new wrinkles, but that’s a different blog.

We gathered on Thanksgiving afternoon at my brother’s house, my Mom made a ham, my sister-in-law made a turkey, my kids learned they liked creamed corn casserole, this after my Mom worried much of the afternoon about whether she had messed up the recipe, since she was “distracted” by everyone chatting and sharing stories in the kitchen while she was trying to cook. I also thought it was delicious.

There were 14 of us for Thanksgiving Dinner; we prepared a cheese tray for nibbling while we chatting in the kitchen for the hour and half leading up to dinner. We also had to bring the Wurzelbrot Bread from the Swiss Bakery near our home and our special Cranberry Salsa.

There were mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, and a rice based stuffing. I was invited to help make the gravy, I am not sure how I earned the privilege, though I vague remember making gravy at an earlier multigenerational Thanksgiving gathering. It came out well, so I guess their trust was justified.

My Dad said a Thanksgiving blessing then we all took our plates and circle to buffet spread and sat down to eat. The six “kids” at their table in the kitchen and the older adults in the dining room. The flavors and textures were delicious, but each of us realized about a third of the way through our plate that we had selected just a bit too much. Perhaps it was the cheese, perhaps the plates were a bit large, or perhaps our eyes – as usual on Thanksgiving Day – were just a bit larger than our stomachs.

Conversation was great; after we were done we all chipped in to help clean up the mounds of dishes and pots and pans – many hands made light work. We had a brief pause for conversation – yes I admit my eyes might have closed a few times.

My brother’s family are rabid Baltimore Ravens fans – so much of the rest of evening was spent watching another epic Football battle between the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, this made even more interesting since my son goes to college in Pittsburgh and now has divided loyalties between the Ravens and Pittsburgh. The game was still in contention until the last minute when Pittsburgh could not complete the pass for the two point conversion.

Charles G. Summers, Jr. Canning Plant Mural

The next morning my wife and I went for our usual long walk through the farms, woods, and then crossed the Mason Dixon Line to stroll up through the town on the Rail Trail. We heard the train whistle in the distance for the new “Steam Into History” passenger train. I paused briefly to take a few pictures of the Murals on the former Charles G. Summers, Jr. Vegetable Canning Business (our family business for 119 years).

We returned home later in the day for a few more days filled with baking cookies, a quick visit for my son to “Bob’s Barber Shop” to see what they could do with 3 months of college grown hair, seeing a movie with cousins on the other side of the family, my daughter finished up a college application. My son had his 10 hours of board games with friends, and then it was a few hours of sleep. He and I got up at 5:30 so he could catch the bus back to college, another half dozen activities after my son left – an hour nap – helping set up for the Advent Fun Shop at our church, baking more cookies, and a bit of Personal History interviewing and Thanksgiving Weekend came to a close.  A busy, family and fun filled four days of Thanksgiving.


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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