A few years ago I stumbled across an article (knowing me, probably from Pinterest) about interviewing grandparents about their lives. Ever the family archivist, I was shocked I hadn’t ever thought of doing this before and knew I had to get busy. Harper was just a toddler at the time, but this was something I wanted to do for my kids, and heck, for the rest of the family too. My Grandpa was just starting to show signs of memory loss and he and Grandma had recently moved to Texas to be closer to family. Today, a few years later, he still remembers some pieces of his story, but he doesn’t always know my name anymore so I am so glad I did this when I did. Though I’d heard bits and pieces about their younger selves, I’d never sat down and asked them to tell their story. Their whoooole story.
So that year, as everyone was doing their last-minute cooking for Thanksgiving, I went over to my grandparent’s house, set up the camcorder, and got them talking. The questions were really just a guide to give them direction and to keep them talking when they couldn’t think of anything else to say. Some of the stories I knew, or thought I knew, but there was so much about them and their lives that I knew nothing about.
Three hours later, we ran out of questions. Plus it was time to eat. But those 3 hours of video are now something I’ll cherish forever. My grandparents telling their story, in their own words. Completely unedited. Any time I watch a piece of it, it will be just as it was. Me and them, just hanging out and talking. I’m not sure if this time meant more to me, or to them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have their stories written down too, especially if it is in their own handwriting, but with the video, I can share that special time I spent with them with the rest of the family too. With the video, I’m not the only one that gets to have those memories and relive that time as often as I want. Except now I’ve reminded myself that I need to get everyone a copy…
The next time I see my grandmother on my mom’s side I fully intend to do this with her too. Or if my cousins who see her all the time did it that would be good too… This is me giving you “the look,” guys!
These are some of the questions I asked, but remember, these are just a guide. We talked about so much more than what is listed here.
- When and where were you born? Name the date, city, state, and was it at home or in a hospital?
- Does your name have a special meaning? What nicknames have you been given?
- Tell me about your parents.
- Tell me about your siblings and where you fall in the line.
- What kind of house did you grow up in? What were your family dynamics like?
- What were the holidays like? What were/are your family’s traditions?
- What major world events you have lived through and what do you remember about them? How were your lived impacted?
- What schools did you attend? What was your favorite subject? What was the highest education you achieved?
- Tell me about your friends growing up. What did you do for fun?
- What was the worst trouble you ever got into?
- How did you meet each other?
- Tell me about your first date.
- Tell me about your proposal.
- Tell me everything about your wedding. The date, the location, the wedding party, how many people were there? What did you wear? What are your favorite wedding memories?
- What jobs have you held?
- What has serving in the military meant to you? What was your rank and what were your duties?
- Tell me about your children. Names, when and where they were born, and what they were like as kids.
- What were the best and hardest parts about being parents?
- Tell me about all the places you have lived.
- Tell me about some of your favorite travels.
- What is it like being a grandparent?
- Tell me about your faith and what impact it has had on your life.
- What hobbies have you enjoyed?
- What kind of legacy do you hope to leave? How do you want to be remembered?
- What hopes do you have for the future? For your children and grandchildren?
Another project I’d like to take on is helping my Grandma organize her pictures and writing down who the people are, and the story behind the picture. She is likely the only one who knows who everyone is, but she may also be the least organized person I know. I want us to be able to show our children the old photographs and tell the stories of our elders (“in a never-ending chain. Aue, Aue!”). Or something like that.
So this holiday season, when you see those family members that you likely don’t spend nearly enough time with, maybe sit down and ask them about their story. From the veeeery beginning. Record it. Make copies. Save it in 10 different places. Keep it up to date in the most recent technological format. A day will come when you’d give anything to see their faces again, to hear their voice, and soak up every bit of wisdom they have to offer.