Over a decade ago, a dear friend of mine was in the process of transcribing audio of her dad telling his life story. I remember thinking, “That’s a great idea. I should do that.” And then I jaunted off to grad school for two years and when I came back, so many other things demanded my time.
Last year, my Aunt Sarah asked me to help with edits on a book she was compiling that told the story of my Nana and Gramps. My Gramps died in 1989, Nana in 1998, so she had spent hours cobbling together stories of their lives–mostly from secondary sources.
In November 2015, StoryCorps sponsored The Great Thanksgiving Listen, in which they encouraged high school students to talk to the older members of their families and record their stories. I offered my journalism students extra credit if they participated–they had to select questions, conduct an interview, and then upload the interview. When I told my newspaper staff about the opportunity, I shared with them how I wish I had asked my grandparents more questions about their lives.
On to present day, inspired by the background information:
This year for Christmas, I gave my parents each a notebook with 40 prompts. For at least 40 weeks, they will jot down important remembrances based on the prompts. I will show up to their house and record them talking about the prompt (the journalist in me gets to ask follow up questions when needed) and my nieces will help with the transcribing.
By the end of the year, I’ll have a notebook from mom, a notebook from dad, audio recordings, and transcriptions. All primary sourced, ready to be compiled into a narrative.
I didn’t want to rely on my and my siblings’ memories to tell the stories of my parents. I want them to tell their stories. And rather than hoping they’d get around to it eventually, I’m forcing their hand.
I hope they don’t mind.