As we do our best to come through these hard economic times it would do us well to ask our elders how they survived difficult times in their own lives. Not only can the information we get from them help us right now, but we can also learn that people can indeed survive terrible periods in life, that somehow they find the strength to muster through as best as they can and even learn how strong and resilient they can be in handling all the stresses of life.
I’d like to suggest that you find an older person to interview about their life — maybe it was a great grandparent who lived through the Great Depression; maybe it is someone who survived a terrible war; maybe it’s someone who overcame a great illness or loss. Ask them to speak about their lives to you, how they got through their ordeal, and what they learned from it. If you have a child, bring the child with you to the interview so that he or she can also learn from the conversation; it is important that children hear that while each of us may go through tough times in life, we can also overcome these hard times, that nothing bad lasts forever as long as we keep hope alive in us and show as much courage as possible.
Many years ago I wrote a family oral history guide called ”How to Tape Instant Oral Biographies” and I helped set up Grandparent Day programs in schools where children would invite older neighbors or relatives to school and record the key stories in their lives. The children always came away glowing with the wonderful stories they heard, and the older people felt so happy to share their lives. In the book I wrote that everyone has a story to tell — if only someone would ask, if only someone would listen, and that there is an African saying that when an elder dies a whole library is destroyed because of all the stories that are lost from that person’s lives.
In interviewing my own mother about the Depression, I learned that as tough as things were during that period the family pulled together and found ways to enjoy life. Every Saturday evening, for example, the family would gather together and perform vaudeville skits for one another and that my grandmother and grandfather would dress in each other’s clothes and sing for the children. My mother would say, ”We didn’t have any money, but we had a wonderful time together and were happy.”
To help you interview an elder, you can go to the page on this web site — http://www.billztreasurechest.com/fun_family.html –where you’ll find excerpts from my oral history book with interview questions to help you get started in having a conversation with others about their lives. (It’s on the Fun Activities for Family page.)
I hope you’ll try this out, and if it works well for you, please consider sharing some of the stories you learn by writing to us.