The Importance of Telling Our Stories
Several months ago, I finally got around to that photograph project. You know the one where you take the boxes of old family photos and put them in order neatly in albums. I had fancy plans but ended up just getting them in, kind of any which way. In the process, I came upon a photo of my mother as a teenager that was unfamiliar to me. It’s a photo of six women. I recognized my mother and her two sisters and of course my grandmother, who looked impossibly young. The other two young women I didn’t know. There was nothing on the photo itself to tell me and, at this point, my mother and my aunts and my grandmother are all deceased. I realized I will never know if these were cousins or neighbors or friends.
And I thought about how many photos most of us have of family and friends and how few written documents. In my family, there are no written documents from my father’s side. My mother left a couple of small, cryptic diaries from the early years of her marriage and I have a few letters she sent me over the years, but there’s no one left to tell any of those stories about their growing up or my grandparents’ lives in their youth and middle years or ancestors before that.
All human beings are storytellers, but in our culture, where we used to tell each other stories (around the fire or kitchen table), we’ve become consumers of other people’s stories, mostly fictional (soap operas, movies, novels) and we don’t weave our own much anymore. I think this is why there is such an interest in memoirs of all kinds.