Honoring Our Great Historians

story telling for modern times

Long before streaming media, texting, the internet and even the printed word, history was passed forward using the spoken word. Communities of indigenous peoples would gather in a broad circle around a warm inviting fire while the tribal elders shared stories of conquest and heroism. This was how history was depicted, sometimes created but, always passed to the younger generations for them to future share with future generations. In Native American culture a sacred talking stick was held by the story teller and that passed to the next elder when he was through. During the time of storytelling only one person talked.

My great aunt passed away a few years ago leaving boxes of miscellaneous papers and documents going back to the turn of the 20th century. It was an amazing treasure trove of history. There was memorabilia from two world wars and several passing of relatives I didn’t even know existed. I was going through this portal into the past at my grandparents’ house in northern Wisconsin. My grandmother peered over my shoulder and commented “oh, I remember those”. It was a booklet of unused gas stamps.My grandmother went on to explain to me that during World War II the entire society participated. Gas, food and other necessities were rationed. You had a book of ration stamps and once those were gone that was it for the month. The entire nation took a deep breath sucked in their belly and toughed it out without complaining. They felt like it was their duties as Americans a far cry from how society functions today. This generation was the original conservationist. Under Roosevelt national parks were created, public lands were protected and the American infrastructure was greatly improved. They are referred to them as the greatest generation ever to live.

I would have never known the depth struggle and glory of triumph my grandparent’s generation lived through if it weren’t for the box of papers my great aunt left behind. It was my grandmothers talking stick and I listened intently to every word and felt the pain, hope and splendor of their generation.

My grandmother passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 98 and my grandfather a couple years ago. I deeply treasured my relationship with my grandparents and older generations in general. Their stories are amazing, enriching and inspiring. I hope this story inspires you to open a story telling dialog with older generations and if you are part of an older generation pass along your story to us.

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