Thursday, May 17, 2012

Remember when...?

My fourteen-year-old son was born into a comfortable world of modern conveniences. 

His parents have always driven their own cars, carried their own telephones, and possessed their own personal computers. His home is an ambient 74˚F year-round, thanks to central heat and air. There has always been a television in his playroom, where over the years Sesame Street and Barney tapes and Disney DVDs have been replaced with Wii and PlayStation consoles and games. Twenty-four-hour grocery stores ensure he'll never go hungry; gardening has just been a hobby his parents enjoy, when there's time and seasonal conditions are good. My son has enjoyed these things, without ever thinking about them. 

Until, that is, a recent school project for his Georgia Studies class asked him to.

The assignment was laid-back in structure, as the school year has nearly wound down and teachers and students alike are pining for the upcoming summer break. My son was asked to come up with a short list of questions on specific historical events of his choice, from the past seventy years. The questions would guide him during an informal interview he was to conduct with someone who is at least sixty years old and who has lived in our state the majority of his or her life. My son chose to interview a seventy-three-year-old family friend we affectionately call Granddaddy.

The first question my son asked was about the Civil Rights era. Granddaddy began by telling him about the all-white school he attended, and about the all-black school in town. His memory flood gates flew open. It was wonderful to see the light in Granddaddy's eyes as he reminisced for the next two hours, describing life in rural Georgia during his childhood. He talked about the small house he grew up in, heated only by the wood-burning stove his grandmother cooked on. Quilts kept him warm on winter nights, and during brutal Georgia summer nights, they dragged their mattresses out to the porch where it was cooler. And every morning, the cow was milked and the eggs collected from the hen house before his grandmother could prepare breakfast. 

My son's eyes grew large when Granddaddy explained that as the youngest in the house, it was his job to empty the "slop jar," used during the night when the grown-ups didn't want to go to the outhouse.

From describing the route he drove in his grandfather's truck, selling their farm produce door-to-door, to buying twenty-five cents worth of ice from the traveling ice man, to assisting the grown-ups when a snake fell into the well, my son learned secondhand how different life was just two generations ago. 

For me, the story ideas swirled in my mind as I listened.

A wealth of knowledge and information about a bygone era resides in our elder generation. I encourage everyone to spend an hour or two with grandparents, older neighbors, or friends with the intention of asking them about their lives. Stories from their childhoods, memories of what life was like during wartimes, and their recollections of important milestones achieved during their lives (scholastic accomplishments, marriages, pregnancies, first jobs, etc.) will enlighten and inspire you, while bringing you closer to the friend or relative who's doing the sharing.

After Granddaddy left, my son and I talked about the differences in our daily lives compared to what Granddaddy described from his past. And what modern conveniences from my son's lifetime, we wondered, will he describe years from now to wide-eyed, disbelieving children? Fun to think about.

And, oh the stories that continue to come to mind... 

Have you asked your grandmother or grandfather about their childhoods? What was the most surprising thing they shared with you?

Thanks for reading!

[I originally published this article in the May 16, 2012 Drama Newsletter at]