I started this as a response to Nikki’s “Family Secrets” post, and then realized that it was just too long for a response, and it would probably make a good post.
I come from a LARGE family. My grandparents, bless their Catholic-bunny hearts, created 14 children, 13 of whom lived long and healthy lives. They started this odyssey in 1912, so my dad, aunts and uncles grew up in the first quarter of the 20th Century, in the Roseland area of Chicago. Back then, it was a great neighborhood, and the Dreger Kids were a wild bunch.
Because of the number of kids in the family, the older kids cared for the youngers. They all pitched in and worked when and where they could – around the house doing the cooking, laundry, dishes, and cleaning, and when they were old enough, shoveling coal, working for the railroad, or whatever other jobs they could scare up. When they weren’t working, they were causing trouble. And when they weren’t causing trouble, they were playing music. They’re a seriously talented bunch.
When the time came, the older brothers went off to war, first to WWI, then WWII, and finally the Korean War, which was the one that Dad served in. He was the youngest male, so the Military Service ended with him. Our family was lucky… everyone who went to war returned home, unharmed.
Oh, the stories they tell! My family is a vocal one. If we were Irish, it would be said that we have the gift of Blarney. But we’re German, so we just talk. A lot. Every time the family gets together, mostly for weddings and funerals (both of which, right or wrong, are massive parties), the stories fly and the music flows. And at every single get-together, my cousins and I would sit and listen to these stories, told first by Grandma (Grandpa died when I was five), and then by our parents, aunts and uncles, and we’d say to one another… “somebody should be writing this down”. But no one ever got around to it. Even when Grandma died in 1993, nobody did anything, and we thought her stories died with her.
Well, six years ago, my uncle Joe died, and his death was a slap to the back of the head for me. It was like he was reaching out to me, saying, “Hey, dummy…. Get it done before it’s too late!!” At the luncheon for his funeral, my cousins and I discussed a Family Reunion and we scheduled it for that summer, to be held at my house. Well, I got started immediately. Joe died in January, and we’d set the date for the party for July 17th. As soon as I got home, I sat down and wrote a letter to each of my aunts and uncles, asking them to commit their memories to paper. Or to tell them to their kids, and have a tape or video recorder going. Or call me and tell ME the stories. Somehow, I wanted those stories to get to me. And each month after that, I sent a reminder. Pretty soon, the stories started trickling, and then pouring, in. My dad got into it and started writing, and then he and my mom started badgering the Siblings, fussing loudest at those who scoffed at the idea…
“I have no stories to tell,” they’d say. “My life isn’t that exciting.”
“Oh, but you’d be surprised,” We’d reply. “Once you get started, it will just flow. Try it, please.”
Well, the results were staggering.
Not only did I receive pages and pages and PAGES of stories, I got pictures, pictures and MORE pictures! My uncle Fred even recreated his famous Vanishing Devil painting (and perhaps I will blog that story someday, it’s a good one), and drew a few others. I compiled, edited (just a little, for readability, I wanted to keep the tone of the person who wrote the story), and compiled some more.
The reunion was a smash hit. An aunt and an uncle flew in from Colorado and California, respectively. No one had seen them in ten years or more. We were able to reach another uncle, living in Arkansas, who hadn’t been seen in more than 10 years, and he promised to not lose touch ever again. Aunts and uncles brought boxes and boxes of family memorabilia, and I had The Book all ready to go.
It was 108 pages long! I had put blood, sweat and tears into it, and the result was absolutely amazing. I was even able to gather extra stories from the Siblings about their brother Joe, whose death prompted this project, and who, regrettably, was unable to share his memories. Those memories went into a special book, presented to my aunt Irene and cousin John when they arrived.
That was six years ago. The stories are STILL coming in, and I’ve done a second volume of the stories, and also, a second topic – The Military Files – which documents the brothers’ stories from WWI, WWII, and Korea. There are stories in there of active battles, firefights on the high seas, G.I. antics, and even a surrender during the Battle of the Bulge.
Somewhere, one of my cousins has tapes of my grandmother telling stories of HER childhood…. She grew up in New Ulm, MN, during the 1900’s, and was witness to at least one Indian raid on her town. One of these days, I’m gonna get my paws on those tapes and transcribe them!
This project is one that’s near and dear to my heart, and a little twist on the subject of straight Genealogy. It’s not just names and dates of birth/death, and family trees. It’s a chronicle of a family, lives gone by, and where we came from, telling us how we got our quirky sense of humor, why we can handle stress as well as we do, and why every single one of us has some sort of artistic talent – some of us were blessed with multiple gifts – we’re painters, musicians, writers, photographers.
I highly recommend it for everyone. As we move faster and faster into our future, it’s fascinating to slow down to look into our past, and see that “those people” really were REAL people, with real stories.