Making the Most of Memories

Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Last Christmas, my daughter presented me with a box full of movies. But these weren’t just any movies; they were home movies, from back in the day when people used video recorders instead of their cell phones to make memories last. She’d had them converted to digital because those memories weren’t lasting very well after all. The tapes were degrading at an alarming rate!

(And here is where I make my plea to you to gather up your old tapes of home movies and do the same. If you are a techno genius, you can do it yourself. But there are businesses that specialize in digitalizing your memories and honestly, it wasn’t too expensive and well worth every penny.)

So recently, when I had a bit of time, I pulled out one of my DVDs, expecting to see Christmas shenanigans because it was generally at Christmas when I’d say, “Oh! Get the video recorder!” and Mister Man would dutifully film the chaos. I did not expect to see my dad talking for nearly an hour about his life during the Great Depression but what a gift that was!

My daughter had a 5th grade school project, one where she was asked to interview a relative who had lived through the Great Depression. Both of my parents remembered the Depression but Dad, being a bit older, had more vivid memories. And so he talked about what Christmas was like during that time, where he lived, how his family celebrated. But he also talked about pets and best friends and school life.

What made the difference in this interview, I think, was that my daughter had very specific questions. So it wasn’t just Dad rambling about his life back in the day. He painted such a picture of his childhood, describing his home, what he ate for Sunday dinner, even the games he played.

I’m so thankful my daughter was given that assignment, and I’m glad that she made her father record it. (While she was recording, I was in the kitchen, talking on the phone, my attention elsewhere.) And I’m also very grateful for a quiet moment last week, just me and the movies, when I could savor every minute of those memories my dad shared.

Which brings me to my next plea: when your older-but-wiser loved ones gather soon, don’t just ask them to tell you about their life back in the good old days. Write up some specific questions like, “What kind of games did you play?” or “What was a typical school day for you?” or even “When was your first kiss?”

You can record the interview, but I’d also recommend writing down responses. And not just because I’m supposed to be talking about writing here. But because as wonderful as the digital world is, technology speeds along, and what’s new becomes old and sometimes lost. Words on a page, though...they can last forever.

Cathy C. Hall writes for children and adults. Look for her latest byline in Chicken Soup for the Soul's Miracles and More. And if you're in South Korea, you can find her recent leveled readers in bookstores and schools. But if you want to catch up with Cathy herself, look for her around SCBWI conferences or workshops or book signings where she's having fun, making new memories (Um...which she may or may not be able to share)!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--It's too late to do that with my parents, but I have a mother-in-law who is still alive, and you're right: a family gathering would be a great time to do some filming.

(The video tapes are degrading at an alarming rate? What about me? ;)

Congrats on the recent CS publication. (Those are harder and harder to snag.) And the next time I go to South Korea, I'll check out the whole Cathy C. Hall section of the bookstore.

Diane Martin said...

I interviewed my mom a few months ago, recording it on a digital recorder which I will transcribe soon, asking her all about her childhood, etc. It was great! My dad passed away a couple of years ago, and I regret that I didn't take the time to interview him.

Last week at my in-laws' Thanksgiving gathering, since my four young adult children were there, I asked my in-laws to tell us how they met. Turns out there was a surprising part of the story they'd never told their own sons! We all had a good laugh, and my kids now have a special memory of that Thanksgiving.

Thanks for your post!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Sioux, do it! And then transcribe it, just in case you leave it on your phone and then you lose your phone and you can't find anything in the cloud because the cloud's drifted away to who-knows-where.

I'm just sayin'...

Oh, Diane, don't you just love surprises like that! There were a few things my dad said that surprised me, and then it occurred to me that my brothers may not know much of this history. I'm going to make copies of the interview and send to them for Christmas. They may even watch it. :-)

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

How lucky you are to have that recording! I wish I had a video of my mother playing the piano (she was brilliant). The winter before my father-in-law passed away I made plans to interview him in the summer about his storied life with the intent of turning it into a book and publishing a few copies just for family. Papa passed away in May that year, so I never had the chance. How I wish I hadn't waited.

Pat Wahler said...

As we get older, we come to appreciate family memories from a time long before we were born. This is an excellent idea to capture some of those stories for our children and our children's children.

Debra Mayhew said...

What great gifts from your daughter! First, the interview and then getting all those home movies updated in a format you can use. My mom has an audio cassette of her parents talking and it's one of her most treasured possessions. I'm going to put together a list of questions to ask my parents next time we are together. Thanks for the heart-warming post. Well worth the read!

Tina Cho said...

Great idea! That's awesome you could watch your father & rekindle memories. I'll have to try this w/my 94 yr old grandmother.

anita said...

Wow! The perfect gift! Enjoy every moment while you're re-re-re-watching them. Thanks for sharing a great idea, Cath.

Cathy C. Hall said...

I'm so glad all y'all are spurred on to do your own interviews!

(And P.S. Yes, "all y'all" is a perfectly acceptable expression if you are Southern :-) )

Mary Horner said...

My daughter had a similar assignment, and I was so happy to learn more about my own mother!

Linda O'Connell said...

Preserving history through visual and written means is a imperative, but I recently found a tape of my dad singing and playing guitar, I wish I had asked my grandparents more probing questions.

Suzanne Pitner said...

What a fabulous gift to have those memories! You just reminded me of some audio tapes my dad sent me. I keep meaning to have them trsnsferred to digital. I'd better get on that!

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