Oral History as a Gift

Mother’s Day was last week and this year I gave a gift to my mother by giving a gift to my daughter.1 I spent Sunday telling my daughter as many of my childhood “mom” stories as I could recall. I then got us all together on a FaceTime call for my Mom to tell more stories.

Here’s a thing that people of my generation are now having to deal with. Our memories of our childhood are washing out and our parents, if they are still around, are forgetting some of the best times of our lives. The people that want these memories the most are our children. Home movies were rare when I was a kid. For all of the hipster mystique that the Polaroid format has now, they are actually terrible archive records. I’m left with fuzzy, muddy pictures with no dates or context.

More than the photos, my six year old child wants the experience. She wants to know that her experience of the world isn’t so different from mine. It’s reassuring for her to hear that a superhero like her dad also struggled to make friends in school, was bored by adult conversations and liked to dress like a weirdo whenever he could.2

For my mother, it creates a bridge of communication between her, so far away in distance and years, to her granddaughter. It opens new areas of understanding and entirely new possibilities for conversations. She gets to be an old friend to a young girl.

I now understand that oral history serves a real purpose for both the young and old of my family. It brings the human experience into a common perspective for us all. It’s a shocking realization that I may actually be the elder of my tribe charged with continuing the story.

  1. I congratulate Hallmark on the creation of one of the few marketing tools I actually appreciate. ↩︎

  2. Yes, I had Mork rainbow suspenders but I also had pretty bitchin' Garanimal corduroys. ↩︎