Years ago, my mother, growing older and, I suppose, becoming more aware of her own mortality, decided to write a “book” of her memories about childhood and growing up in rural Tennessee. She made copies of her completed manuscript and gave them to various family members. I read it and put it aside, but did register a copyright on it so that there would be a record of its existence some place.
The other day my daughter visited grandma and came back asking me about grandma’s book, so I dug out the yellowing manuscript and made a copy for her. I looked at the manuscript again myself, a simple telling of the story of one family, and thought how lucky I am to have such a record.
I have always known my history. It is surprising how many people “don’t know who they are.” People seem to have an inert need to know whom their natural parents are, where they came from, even if they are unable to directly contact them.
My mother told us tales about our grandparents and great grandparents over and over as children so that we would not forget. Nevertheless, as I read thru the pages of her manuscript, I realized that there were many details given that I did not recall. The retelling of the stories has not been too important to me, and so my children will have less to tell, and my grandchildren probably nothing at all. How fortunate that she has taken the time to write this down.
The stories are simple: childhood games, working in the fields, washing in wash pots, making lye soap, pea picking, quilting, going to church in the wagon, all the things that made up rural life in the ‘20s. But more importantly, stories of love, pride, honesty, belief in God, and basic values that were passed along with the stories. The manuscript is a special treasure to our family. In the retelling of events, there is much accounting of community activities, events and lifestyle of years past. While it is not something that would interest a publisher, it is too good not to share with others.
So, I took a giant leap and called the Tennessee State Archives. I had heard that they sometimes accept family histories and keep them in the archives on permanent retention. When I called, they said that they would be happy to consider accepting my mother’s manuscript. I’ve taken the manuscript to them and asked for it to be placed in the record. It seems there is a committee that decides. The committee will meet again in a few weeks and decide whether it has significant enough value to retain.
Why are so few people doing this? The person with whom I spoke said that many families try to get older family members to make records of their memories before it is too late. But more often than not, it is too much trouble or they never get around to it. When they die, their memories die with them and are lost forever. It is exciting to me to know that my family’s story will live forever and be available for future generations of scholars doing research or learning about history or for decedents trying to find their roots.
It really isn’t so hard. If you don’t write, buy a little tape recorder. Get grandma talking about the olden days. Ask her a few questions. She will love the attention, and you will get a record of the past that will probably be invaluable to your children. You may decide to have it transcribed and put on public record as I did. Or you can copy it and give it to other close families for a meaningful gift they will never forget.