Friday, October 31, 2014

Recording the Life Stories of My Grandparents

I have a big family: my mom is the oldest of five and my dad is the oldest of seven. Nearly everyone is married and has at least two children. We all love to give gifts, so Christmas is quite the extravaganza. A very long, very expensive extravaganza.

A few years ago, we decided to take a more creative approach to Christmas gifts, switching from purchasing gifts to what we have affectionately come to describe as "make, bake, or take Christmas." Make a gift (spending no more than $5), bake something (or, if you prefer, make flavored alcohol, which we've received on more than one occasion) or take something you already own and re-gift it (there is no price limit to re-gifting: my cousin received a set of golf clubs two years ago.)

For Christmas 2012, I gave my mom's parents a book labeled About Me. The first page was a note from me, asking them to, over the course of the next year, answer the questions at the top of each page and give this book to me as my gift on Christmas 2013.

On Christmas morning 2013, I opened both books from my grandparents, each full of memories (mostly handwritten, a few typed for lack of space (!!)) with the request that the book be kept private: what was written in there was written for me, and no one else--much to the jealousy of my aunts and cousins. A few days later, my Grandpa and Grandma each asked to have the book back for a little while to add stories and details that they had recently remembered and wanted to include. I happily returned the book, knowing I'd want as many memories as they would want to share.

A few months ago, my Grandma passed away. On her bedside table, the morning she died, was this book and a pen. I scooped it up, quickly, and put it in my purse. As I read through it over the following week--and wept, of course--I was even more thankful for the time she had put in to writing down her life stories for me...appreciating this heirloom all the more in her passing.

In the last year or so, I've had a few people ask about the questions that are in the book: How specific are they? Where did I find them? Etc. So I thought I would post them here, as a way to have a place to point people for this information, but also as an encouragement to you to make a similar book for the people in your family. Someday, I hope to have a little library of Family Life Stories...what a great way to fill a bookshelf.

:: ABOUT ME :: 
I bought 1/2 sheet spiral-bound blank sheet books from Michael's and covered the front in construction paper. (You know, high quality craftsmanship.) And then I hand-wrote questions at the top of each page. The majority of the questions are written on the front of the page, leaving the back open for extra space to answer. Also, customize the questions (and the order of questions) to each recipient: each of my grandparents has lost a sibling, but at different stages in their lives. I used the same question "what was it like to lose your brother/sister?" but placed them in the book around the appropriate stage of life (teenage years, after marriage, late in life, etc)

  • My note to you (I filled this in) || Your note to me (dated the following Christmas)
  • What is your earliest childhood memory? 
  • Describe your childhood in two sentences 
  • List your parents & grandparents full names, places & dates of birth 
  • What one or two stories do you remember most from your childhood? 
  • What was your neighborhood like growing up?
  • What did you parents do for work? (1/2 page)
  • Describe each of your parents in one word. (1/2 page)
  • What song(s) will always remind you of your parents/childhood? (1/2 page)
  • What was your favorite thing to do with your parent(s)? (1/2 page)
  • Describe a typical family dinner...what did you eat? What did you talk about around the table?
  • What were your favorite foods growing up? Did your mom/dad typically cook or did you go out to eat often?
  • List each school you attended, years you attended and your best friend(s) at each level.
  • What was your favorite subject? (1/2 page)
  • What were your favorite book(s)? (1/2 page)
  • What was your favorite after school activity? (1/2 page)
  • What did you want to be when you "grew up"? (1/2 page)
  • Do you remember the first family vacation you took? How old were you? Where did you go
  • What was your first job? How did you get it? When and why did you leave it?
  • When was your first date? Where did you take him/her?
  • When do you remember laughing the hardest with your family?
  • When/how did you feel most loved by your family?
  • How did your childhood shape you as a parent?
  • What is the best thing your parents taught you?
  • What was it like to lose your brother? How did you handle your grief?
  • Describe the first time you met Grandma/Grandpa.
  • When did you know you were in love?
  • How did you propose? Who was the first person you told?
  • When and where were you married? How big was the wedding?
  • What advice would you give a newlywed?
  • Where did you go on your honeymoon?
  • How long after your wedding did you become a parent?
  • What were your thoughts about becoming a mother/father? Fears? Excitement? Nerves?
  • What was the best parenting advice you received?
  • Did you plan to have __ (number of) children? How many kids did you want to have? How did you choose their names?
  • What advice would you give a new parent?
  • Tell me about the births of your children.
  • How did having children change your marriage?
  • What has been the happiest time/part/stage of being a parent?
  • What has been the most difficult time/part/stage of being a parent?
  • Would you have done anything differently as a husband/wife and/or father/mother?
  • How did you come to be a (profession)
  • What was/is your favorite family tradition?
  • What are the most memorable family vacation stories?
  • Describe the day you found out you were going to be a grandparent.
  • Where were you on the day I was born? (1/2 page)
  • Tell me something funny my parents did that day. (1/2 page)
  • What has been the best part of being a grandparent? (1/2 page)
  • What has been the most difficult part? (1/2 page)
  • Who are your "oldest" friends? How have you remained friends for so long?
  • Describe what it was like to lose your parents. How did you handle your grief?
  • Did it feel different to lose your mother or father? Was it difficult to help your children grieve a grandparents while grieving yourself?
  • What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishments?
  • List your top ten favorite books.
  • List your ten favorite songs (or albums or artists) at all time.
  • List five people you would consider (or have considered) to be your heroes and why.
  • What three world events have had the most impact on your life and why?
  • Do you think kids have it "better" or "worse" today than when you were a kid?
  • List ten things you are grateful for.
  • What are three things you want people to remember about you?
  • What is your all-time favorite joke?
  • What would you consider to be the most important lesson you've learned in life?
  • How has faith/God shaped you?
  • List your top ten favorite movies.
  • Why do you love to read?
  • If you could give me one piece of advice, what would it be?
  • If you were to travel anywhere, where would you go?
  • What's the best vacation you've ever taken?
  • How would you like to spend your retirement years?
  • What's your favorite thing about yourself?
  • What's your favorite thing about our family?
  • What's your favorite thing about me?
  • What did I miss?? Any other stories you think I ought to know?
Please leave a comment with any questions, or any pieces I may have missed.

1 comment :

Julie Hibbard said...

Still the best "make, bake or take" ever...