Giving Voice to Family Stories


For some reason, Autumn seems to bring to mind family stories and memories for me, and I have a sense of renewed urgency to capture and record family stories for my daughter and the generations that follow. Perhaps it is because the fall season ushers in the baking season, and so many of the family tall tales that I heard were usually told by a group of women baking and cooking in a kitchen for a family holiday get-together. Or perhaps it’s because in the fall we gather around to watch football games or eat turkey or roast marshmallows, and stories just naturally happen in those settings. Or perhaps it is because I am realizing that it is my generation in the family that is becoming the keeper of the tales, and that is a huge job.

In this information age of texting and e-mail, in this age of sentence fragments, no punctuation and phonetic abbreviation, the family tale is becoming a rare gem, and the voices of our ancestors seem further away than ever.

As a writer, I want to encourage people to record those family stories. Capture your voice and the voices of the people around you. Set the scene. Smell the smells, feel the air, taste the food. Create memories for your children and your children’s children.

Yes, writing is in some part gift and talent, but it doesn’t take a Pulitzer Prize winner to write down a few stories that will be cherished by your family.

Here are some suggestions.

  1. Collect the favorite family recipes. Are there two or three things that you always have for Christmas, Thanksgiving or someone’s birthday? Write those recipes down and tell the story about how they came to be such permanent fixtures on your table. Where did the recipe first come from? Has it ever been really messed up?
  2. Write about the time you couldn’t get the family together for a holiday dinner or birthday and why.
  3. Write up a collection of “how they met” stories. Ask the couples in your family to tell you how they first met each other. Where did they meet? What was the weather like? What were they wearing?
  4. Write about the family pets. Are there any family members that have lots of pets? Are there any stories about pets doing crazy things, like the time the Great Dane swiped the ham off the Easter dinner table? Or have any pets saved a life?
  5. Ask the older members of your family to tell you about their first job, and create a collection of stories around first jobs.
  6. Write about the places you have lived, or write about the rooms of the house or apartment where you live now. Is there a favorite rocking chair in a corner of a room where you sat and rocked a child? Or, is there a piece of furniture that has been passed down from generation to generation?

Remember that when you are writing, the magic often happens in the part where you are struggling. If there is a part of a story or a even an entire story that just isn’t working, keep talking to people about it and playing with it. Chances are that something is happening there, and when you get the story right you will have something really special to share with your loved ones.

© 2010 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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