When I was in college, I kept a notebook of interviews that I had with my grandparents over various holiday visits to their California home. During quiet moments together, I would ask them questions about their life experience. In one of those moments, my grandfather’s story about his travels to South America emerged. He’d trained air pilots at an Air Force base in Georgia during World War II, but in the post-war era found himself wishing he’d been able to travel, to have an adventure of his own. So, after he returned home, he and two friends outfitted a station wagon for sleeping and supplies and traveled through Mexico and Central and South America – as far as the newly constructed highway would take them. He was an engineer, and I still have the drawing of the sleeping compartments he designed in my notebook.
My grandparents were larger-than-life figures in my life; and even though they have all passed on, I think about them daily. My maternal grandmother’s affinity for Vespas and ever-present response to any challenge – “it makes you feel alive”; my paternal grandmother’s college story, the story of discovering later in her life what she really loved; my grandfather’s early inventions (one patent is framed in my office). These familial stories create the through lines of our lives – the ways we trace our identities, our passions, our history. They give us resilience, reminding us in moments of fear and worry of the many ways those close to us have experienced difficulties, and we find our resolve in all the ways they have thrived.
The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is an opportunity for children to talk with elders, family friends, grandparents, and aunties – to learn and to record their stories. I’ve been inspired by The Great Thanksgiving Listen through StoryCorps, and the way they’ve galvanized young people across the country to interview their families over the Thanksgiving holiday, interviews which are now housed in the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. While the StoryCorps app can be downloaded if you are 14 or older, children who are younger can find meaningful ways to interview elders and family friends.
Here are a few tips to create your own Great Thanksgiving Listen:
- Work with your child to write a few open-ended questions. StoryCorps suggests that you start with simple questions like, What are you most grateful for? How do you want to be remembered? As StoryCorps reminds us, asking a question is a way of honoring a person; it reminds them that their life and experience matter.
- Record the audio, so that you can listen back and have a record for future years. If children are 14 or working with an adult, use the StoryCorps app to record your interview. Your family stories will be housed in the Library of Congress, which is no small thing!
- Talk with your children about what they discovered. Relationships continue to deepen and become more vibrant when we see the people in our lives in new ways. You can help inspire this by sharing a meaningful discovery about the family member you interviewed.