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San Clemente Journal

Gramma Speaks Passing it forward

Feb 01, 2003 08:37PM ● By Don Kindred
Leaving A Legacy to Our Heirs
by Anne Batty

Tell me a story, tell me a story, tell me a story before I go to bed … 
Olde Nursery Rhyme

     "Again, again Gramma,” a tiny voice echoes. “Tell it/read it again, Gramma.” Precious words. Most probably heard if one lives long enough and is fortunate to be blessed with heirs.

     Perhaps the art of story telling retains its appeal to all ages because its messages not only entertain, but also have the power to teach, revealing both relatable and unknown facts to its hearers/readers. Whatever the appeal, storytelling is here to stay and possibly one of the greatest gifts one can give to those who follow are their own life stories.

     The idea of actually organizing and recording a life’s experiences into story form, often seems an impossible task. But like the Gershwin song from Porgy and Bess says, “It ain’t necessarily so.” Believe it or not, there are three simple ways one can leave a legacy. Speak it; picture it; write it.

     History proves oral story telling to be one of the earliest forms of recording events. This genre was used not only to relate occurrences but also, to recount personal experiences, often speaking of values and ethics, warning of dangers, sharing wisdom and offering solutions. Today, personal life events can be shared and preserved for future generations via tape recordings and videotape. Favorite songs (for the musically inclined) and family sayings (often referred to as Momilies or Momisms) along with family histories and traditions, can be recounted, explained, recorded, labeled and filed for viewing in the present or in the future.

     Most people have boxes of pictures that tell much about their families, their traditions, their physical and environmental changes and how they spend their time. As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and there is usually a story behind every picture.

     “Organizing them is the problem,” one may say. Again, not necessarily so. Don’t worry about any specific order – just get started!

     Begin with one picture and one story, incident, or tradition. Paste the picture or pictures on a loose album page and write a mini-phrase or story alongside it/them. Eventually lots of mini-stories begin to unfold, a pattern soon develops and assembling them in comprehensible order becomes a piece of cake.

Some of the following categorical orders may be found helpful:
Chronological–Birth/Childhood/TeenYears/Young Adulthood/Careers/Marriage/Seniorhood/Passings
Events – Religious Ceremonies/School Events/Birthdays/Proposals/Weddings/Farewells
Holidays – New Year’s/Valentine/Easter/Father’s-Mother’s Days/Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas
Life Changing/Shaping Experiences – College/Employment/Service To Country/Meeting Spouses/Purchasing First Automobiles and Houses/Moves Away From Family/Vacations/Travels
Relationships – Working/Familial/Special Friendships/Love Interests
Leaving a legacy doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair; the simplest of things suffice. A recipe book of the family’s favorites, albums picturing the relatives that form the family tree, old diaries, journals, awards, newspaper or magazine articles, just to name a few. These and many other things one has saved and collected over the years serve as a means of recording treasured memories.

     Some may have the talent and/or desire to chronicle memories and stories on paper. Again, it is important to - just get started. Writing just one sentence about something that happened in the past often triggers an entire story. As each story is told individually, a pattern forms, and before “you can shake a stick at it” – Voila – a family history book is born. But, for those who really feel they cannot write or organize their life’s story, there are pre-created books called Grandmother or Grandfather books, listing specific topics to jog the memory. All that needs to be done in this case is to fill in the blanks.

     Each life has a story and that life story has the capacity to teach, influence and sustain the generations that follow. The sharing of a life’s journey, its stages, choices, triumphs and defeats, often gives listeners the opportunity to reflect and to learn.

     It is also comforting to know that the observers, listeners or readers aren’t the only ones who can gain from legacies left behind. In the recent findings of a team of researchers at St. Olaf’s College, MN, it was discovered that the storytellers themselves might also benefit. That by remembering and relating life stories one often lowers heartrate and increases a sense of overall well being. That since it is not always easy to be present to each life event while it is happening, going back to memories when one is a bit wiser and more detached from the event often brings clearer insights, understanding and comfort.

     Leave a legacy for the heirs in stories, books, pictures, treasured keepsakes or recordings. And bear in mind, precious moments from the past that were not understood or cherished at the time can be gathered up like crumbs to nourish in later years, to feed one’s heirs when one can no longer be with them.

Sr. Editor Anne Batty is available to speak about 
“Leaving A Legacy” and can be contacted at [email protected].