Animals, adventure, long cold treks between the stars, it was impossible to keep me in books growing up. I couldn’t get enough, but I couldn’t keep all those books. There wasn’t room or money enough. Just one of many reasons to love the library in town, the library at school, because I could read the books and take them back, leaving room for more, but some books one can’t let go.
The books we choose to keep and display can say a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. My grandfather wasn’t an avid reader, but he always kept a hardcover edition of Keeper of the Bees near the warmth of the wood stove. It’s a poignant tale of a wounded veteran of the Great War finding peace and hope through the healing hands of nature. Why was it so cherished? Is it because the war to end all wars broke the spirit of a loved one? Is it because my grandpa too knew the wisdom of the woods? He’s gone now, and I don’t know.
How well do you really know the older people in your family? How will you make sure their stories will be preserved for generations to come? Today’s world is so different from yesterday’s, and there’s a wealth of stories waiting to be heard. You’ve thought of bringing a tape recorder or a notebook, but haven’t.
Homemade Biography is a practical guide to recording a relative’s story so it will never be forgotten. Tom Zoellner draws on his own personal experience to give you everything you will need to finish what could be the most fulfilling conversation you’ll ever have.
Tom is a journalist and an author. He has spent all day interviewing people and writing stories. When his grandma had a bad fall, he realized she wouldn’t be around forever. He didn’t want to forget her. Why shouldn’t he write her story?
It all starts with the first session. You have to get permission to document someone’s life. In most cases, this is easy. Many people yearn for a respectful listener. Respect and curiosity is important. You don’t want to just turn on a tape recorder and say, “So…tell me about your life.” You may not want to use a recorder at all, as it may feel more like an interrogation than an interview.
You really only need a pencil and notebook to start a timeline. Dates and locations of another’s life can be easily jumbled for those who didn’t live through it. This will save an enormous amount of trouble later. The timeline is a great way to ease into somebody’s life story, and it conveys your desire to get things right.
You might be worrying about getting this right. You aren’t a professional writer. He’s included several interview techniques, questions to provoke vivid responses, and ways of finding a connective theme in a jumble of facts. Tom also has included case studies of successful family biographies.
A homemade biography has the potential to set off a family conflict, but it can also heal old wounds and help seniors recall good times. Tom includes some of the most common landmines, and the ways you can defuse them ahead of time-such as talking with veterans about their war experiences.
Taking down a history of a relative can be rewarding in ways you may never have considered. It can bring generations closer together. It’s a record of life that goes deeper than names and dates on a family tree. It reminds us all that our lives are interesting – worth living and worth remembering…
Worth saving? Or let history rest? Comment and let me know.