How to Create an Oral History for your Family; or Unforgettable and Unfortunate Things my Kids have Done

How to Create an Oral History for your Family;  or Unforgettable and Unfortunate Things my Kids have Done

by Evey Brown

It happens almost every time my family gets together, someone says, “Mom, tell us again about the time…” and a certain child is singled out for embarrassment.  The whole family laughs and the forenamed child groans in pseudo shame.  And then everyone sits back as I retell the tale that has become a part of our family history.

Like the story when Brad put a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in our VCR just like it was a tape.  (Yes, I know some of you are a little too young to know what a VCR was, think of them like very fat CD’s.)

Or when Kris took a hammer to his bedroom wall just below the light switch so he could see why the light turned on and off.  I was secretly proud of his curious mind but at the time couldn’t overlook the hole.

And who could forget the time Jenny lay on the couch and played ‘airplane’ with the dog?  She lost her balance and managed to toss him right through the huge picture window of our house.  Luckily the dog was fine, but it cost a fortune to replace the glass.

There’s also the day Alex put an arrow, yes I said arrow, through our computer monitor.  In his defense both the bow and arrow were handmade and he says his brother put him up to it.

Holly never likes it when we talk about how we broke her of her tattling habit.  She entered my bedroom and informed on her sister who had hit her, “Just like this,” she said and whacked herself hard on the forehead.  My husband called Jenny in and had Holly repeat her accusation, and yes, she hit herself again.  This was repeated over and over with each of our children until Holly finally said, “Hey… are you teasing me?”

Max’s story is more recent.  He was playing video games with his girlfriend when I came in and addressed him as ‘Princess’.  In ‘my’ defense, okay, I don’t have a real defense, but the name has stuck.  Poor boy.

These stories are still as accurate as I can remember but in all honesty I am sure they have become exaggerated over the years.  I need to put them all on paper so they will not be forgotten.  And there are new ones being created each day.  In the meantime, we tell and retell the stories together.  They make us laugh and bind us together and what could be better than that?

Things My Grandpa Taught Me – O for Orion

 

I spent my summers on my grandfather’s farm, a truly rural place that seemed to be on another planet.  There were six street lights down the only paved road in town, one general store and a school house that combined kindergarten through ninth grades in two small rooms with twenty students.  There were 130 residents there Grandpa would say; if you counted the sheep and cows.

I worked in his store during the day and made dinner at night while he and my grandmother worked the garden.  It seemed to me like a hard life for a twelve year old that had only done a few chores and then played with friends on previous summers but I was away from my parents and siblings on what seemed a grand adventure so I loved every minute of it.

It was dark there at night and the stars were clearly visible in that huge expanse that loomed above the world.  After all the work was done Grandpa would show me a new constellation each night in his heavy astronomy book then we headed outside to find it in the sky above us.  He would turn on his huge flashlight and point out the designs so I could see them too and I was amazed as each night the sky seemed more familiar to me.

My first constellation was Orion, three stars in a sort of straight line formed his belt, there were others around it that represented the warrior’s arms and legs and weapons.  The following nights I learned Canis Major and Canis Minor, his two hunting dogs that stood beside him as the three of them faced off against the rearing bull, Taurus.  That monster was clearly recognized by the red star that formed his eye.

There were other constellations depending on the time of season, Scorpio, Draco the Dragon and Andromeda; but Orion was always the starting point; everything new was related to Orion’s position in the sky. It was our signpost, our go to before we struck out to learn any new constellations.


It’s been years and Grandpa has passed, buried below that vast star-filled sky in rural Utah where I’m sure he gazes at the magnificent view of the constellations he loved each night.

I seldom visit that small town anymore but even today, in the big city where only the brightest of stars are visible, I glance up and search for Orion.  It’s the landmark that lets me know that the world around me has changed but the heavens remain the same.  It acts like an anchor for me, a stepping off place before I explore and the light on the front porch when I’m heading home.

And for that sense of peace I will always thank Grandpa.

Is It Inspiration, Invention or Insight? or, Where Do You Get Your Story Ideas?

2016-04-11 Letter I

When people ask me where I get my ideas for stories and I have no answer for them except; I keep my eyes open and “it comes to me.”

It’s true, there is nothing new under the sun, no unimagined ideas, no unshared topics.  There is however an unnumbered ways of viewing those experiences.

Take Romeo and Juliet for example – of course Shakespeare penned it back in Elizabethan times but it was re-imagined in New York City’s gritty neighborhoods with street gangs instead of feuding families and ‘voila,’ West Side Story.  I’ve seen other versions, one set against the backdrop of World War II where an American girl falls in love with a Japanese boy and the Disney entry that showcases Pocahontas’ and John Smith’s love as their people fight openly in the background.  In fact, isn’t every romance story ever written about two people that fall in love and must struggle to find a way to become one despite their differences, their worlds, their friends and family?

The basic idea of love resonates as a ‘universal truth’ that most humans face at least once in their lives and each new author reflects that story onto the page through the filter of their own individual reality.

In “It,” Stephen King brings two now grown teenagers back together as adults and forces them to confront an evil they fought in their youth.  As they battle this monster, they remember their love for each other and come together in the end.  Yes, I said it; Stephen King rewrote Romeo and Juliet as a horror story.  That is his own view of the world, or at least the one he uses as he writes.

So, back to me.  I write what I know, what I see, what I’ve experienced; and that means I need to keep my eyes open for that element that will bring me to the page.  I may be outside looking at the stars above me or watching a preview for a new show on CBS but both of those acts have brought memories or emotions to my mind and inspired stories.

So, it’s important I keep my mind open; that I observe and not just exist.  In the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron calls this idea ‘filling the well.’  Do something fun, something new, or something you love.  And keep your mind open as you do.  Fill your consciousness with the world around you.  There are so many beautiful, and yes ugly and painful things around you.  These are the things inspiration is made of.

Take that ‘inspiration’ and find its meaning inside you, this is where the ‘insight’ part comes in.  Then invent something with it; something very individual, something your very own.  The universal truth is there as your inspiration, but the other two ‘I’ words have turned it into something new.

I believe all three must be present to create.  Why don’t you give it a try?

“C” is for Crayon

 

I remember the joy that a new box of crayons would bring when I was young. The snazzy yellow box with the signature green stripes on the sides always took my breath away. The sight of all 64 colors in perfect order was like a magical glimpse of the rainbow made real in my hands.

Burnt sienna, sandalwood, magenta and salmon; they were words I’d heard but these crayons were my first exposure to the real thing. To this day I can see in my mind’s eye the lower case black lettering on the side of the crayons with that newly learned shade.

Today, many, many years later, there are new colors; purple mountains majesty, macaroni and cheese and fuzzy wuzzy brown; very descriptive and tactile. I’m sure they were chosen to help their newest consumers learn the shades of the rainbow.

Now if you’ll excuse me; I’m feeling the need to go get a box and right now and create something. I hear they sell boxes with 120 different shades…