Collecting Family Stories
As I’ve been writing in my journal these past thirty-some years, I’ve often found myself associating events of the day with memories of my childhood, or referencing family stories I often heard growing up. Some of the stories are about me before I was old enough to remember them; others tell a story of “the time when” my brother, mom, or dad had a funny, disastrous, or a just-goes-to-show-you learning experience. How surprising and enriching it is to discover new associations and meanings in old stories.
This experience inspired me to write short pieces of memoir with the notion of passing family stories onto my children. Otherwise, how would they ever know my family’s background, which is rooted in rural Ohio and is vastly different from their childhoods growing up in Manhattan and Long Island? In today’s world, where traditional family Sunday dinners, weekend visits, and annual reunions are not as feasible as in the past, writing down our stories is the only path open to those of us who want to preserve our memories for posterity and familiarize our children with their ancestors.
The same day I learned of my pending new status as a grandmother, I came across an ad for a book I immediately ordered: Unconditional Love: A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today, by Jane Isay. Having read the book, I’m persuaded that our personal stories are of priceless importance to our children, grandchildren, and future generations. All of our stories — happy, sad, tragic, comic, of famous family heroes and infamous villains — nurture our children’s belief in themselves, their place in the world, their self-worth. Children who’ve heard family stories are less anxious and more resilient in times of uncertainty.
Those of us who write these stories profit in several ways. We bring to our stories a more mature understanding of their meaning; we form bonds with the younger generation; and, in the process of researching and revisiting our past, are likely to reach out to family and friends whom we haven’t seen or heard from for years. We, too, become more connected, more comfortable in the world, and perhaps a bit less anxious.
START COLLECTING YOUR FAMILY STORIES WITH MELINDA: Melinda Ferguson Sherman leads the four-session workshop “Five Generations: Collecting Family Memories,” beginning Tuesday, October 20. More info
ABOUT MELINDA: Melinda Ferguson Sherman was born in Ohio and lived most of her life in New York City and Long Island before moving to Charlotte two years ago. She is a writer, teacher, and––for nearly 20 years––a journal and memoir writing workshop facilitator. She has written two books of family stories for her children. Melinda has a BA from Miami University, an MA from Columbia University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Southampton. She worked as an editor at Warner, Walker, and Macmillan. Most recently, she’s served as adjunct faculty at Suffolk County (NY) Community College and Central Piedmont Community College.