Few grandparents today seem to know much about their grandparents. That's a pity, because interesting family information gets lost that way.
I wish my grandparents had told me more about their times. That would be going back 130 years or so. They were young during the Civil War. Automobiles and airplanes were not yet common. They would remember the first electric lights, refrigerators and movies and how World War I affected them. They lived through Prohibition. They could have told me about their parents and about my parents growing up.
Now that I'm a grandparent, I realize how important it is to leave some record for my descendants. I want to share some of my experiences and thoughts with my grandchildren who may be too young now to ask questions, but will wonder someday how it was for me growing up in the '30s, experiencing World War II, the Cold War and other main events of my lifetime.
What we grandparents have lived through, and by what means, can be made into stories that will fascinate our grandchildren as they become older, not just because we lived in the "dark ages," from their point of view, but because our lives are family history and part of their background. Knowledge of the family provides grandchildren with self-understanding and a sense of pride and purpose. Links with the past tend to strengthen family ties.
Unfortunately, telephone calls have tended to displace the written word and now family correspondence is rare. Letters once were a good source of family history but they no longer are put away into shoe boxes for future generations to mull over. It is important, therefore, for grandparents to write or tell their stories.
Your story is unique and a gift only you can give. If writing it out seems too difficult, consider using a small recorder to put it on tape.
Whatever means you use to tell your story, you are likely to find it an interesting trip down memory lane.
A few suggestions on how to do it:
Keep it simple. You can leave out the very intimate details. Go easy on philosophy, but do include your impressions and reactions to major events. Use anecdotes as much as possible -- little human-interest stories -- within the big story.
Start with an outline and divide your story into sections.
The first section might be titled, "Background" and contain a few paragraphs about the family's origins, about your mother and father as you remember them or heard of them.
The next section would contain your earliest memories, such as where you lived with a description of your home and what you liked to do.
Then you could go on to the interesting years of growing up. A lot of it would have to do with school because that is what we did most during this part of our lives. Teachers are important. This also is the time we started hobbies, made important friendships, began reading, learned discipline (and how to avoid it) and had secret adventures on our own. As we matured we began to develop talents and aversions. We also started to feel some deep emotions.
All that will be interesting to your grandchildren. You might want to subdivide this section by schools or by different places you lived. Remember, your readers will find it easier if the paragraphs are short and amusing stories are included.
Having grown up and finished basic schooling, the next section might be about your experience as a young adult, such as getting your first job, your advanced education, successes and disappointments and interesting journeys you have made. Many of us have a "war" story or two to relate. Tell about the important people, such as a future spouse, who may have entered your life at this time.
Next might come a section on your main career, or your best accomplishments and experiences as an adult. Tell what you are proud about and want to be remembered for. Include a few short anecdotes about this period of your life. They make interesting reading and will give your young relatives an insight into your mind and spirit. Don't forget to mention, if you can remember, what you were doing when each grandchild was born.
Then comes your retirement years, an incomplete chapter, of course, but many older people are doing things at this point of their lives that they dreamed about for years. Others never really retire, they just take on other work. Tell how it is for you.
Retirement is also a time for reflection on your life and times. Sum it up and put down any advice to the young you may have. Your intelligence plus your experience equals wisdom.
Doing this project for your grandchildren will be appreciated in years to come. Taking the time to tell your story also can be rewarding to you, for it gives you a reason to review, reflect on and characterize your own life. There is a satisfaction in that. Giles Kelly, a retired Navy captain, has two grandchildren and more on the way.