They say we die twice — once when our bodies give out, and again the last time our name is spoken aloud.
My high school English teacher was the first woman I had ever heard go by the title “Ms.” I was a high school freshman in 1979, in a small mill town in southern Maine. Ms. Sullivan was tall, angular, smart, independent, kind of cranky, and gave no f$&ks — I loved her.
I think we all giggled about the term “Ms.” when we were arrived from Junior High. And here I am, all these years later, remembering and writing about her. And yes, I said her name aloud as I wrote.
Several months ago I went searching for her contact information so I could thank her for being a thought leader to me. I’ve been a marching activist for 30 years, with her to thank. I learned that she was active in the state teachers’ union, and that she did some community service related to her love of literature. I also learned another thing.
I was too late.
I would love to have asked her the back story about her early adoption of “Ms.”
Who do you hold in high esteem?
A mentor? Grandparent? Chill and steady Uncle Bill, who taught you to parallel park? A moms night out “colleague” who has been listening, laughing, and struggling along beside you for the last 8 years?
Want a gift of honor to commemorate a loved one and their impact on you? I have just the thing! Gather some folks to discuss a great photo that captures your feelings. It might be the person, the school, that old Plymouth that . Uncle Bill taught you to park. We’ll meet online to discuss it, and I’ll add your comments to a glossy keepsake photo print. Examples and details are HERE.
Or spend time getting to know your elders with this FREE list of 5 prompts to help the conversation flow. It’s a great way to bond, re-bond, or hold space for someone as they remember. If you use the questions, I’d love to know how it goes!
Do your parents text you? They do? Then I was jealous of you: I imagine little notes, daily check-ins, a joke, sending them cute pictures of the kids all of the time…. Plus, no long calls, squeezing that flat cel phone between your shoulder and ear, getting your brain irradiated to greater or lesser degrees… My 14-year-old son joked that it’s like sending telegrams, morse code — or even smoke signals!
Anyway, neither of my parents have smart phones, and we don’t do any of that. I used to be jealous of you.
Then, I took a good look at this: my name, in my dad’s handwriting. Very distinctive. Every time I look at it, I remember: living with my Dad all summer — shopping lists on the fridge, notes to remind us what time the yellow school bus left for swimming lessons at the lake, things to do at work the next day (he was town manager of our wee Maine town), notes to himself about house projects he always had going — or about the businesses in development or currently underway.
I went everywhere with him: the dump, grocery store, (he taught me to jump up and click my heels in the air by practicing on a grocery cart!). We went to the hardware store with wooden floors and to the Red Barn antique shop, where we would stock up on puzzles to get through the winter. In winter we’d assemble puzzles and play cribbage, as he did growing up in northern Maine farm country.
And every summer when I visit, we spend at least ONE night sitting at the kitchen table remembering together and reminding each other: when we had a concession stand at the local stock car racing track, when we got pulled over TWICE in a borrowed Cadillac on the way to my grandmother’s house. That time my car broke down in the Shaker Village (luckily they had a phone!); that time my car broke down and the store-owner wouldn’t let me make a toll call; that time when my car spun into a snowbank and I was closing my eyes to calm my nerves and didn’t see the skiers coming to bail me out — so when they knocked on my window we all screamed and scared each other to death!
Pa has a distinctive laugh, a low throaty chortle. Even if I felt confident that I could remember all the stories, I would only remember my side — not that he’d left a party HE was hosting to pick me up in that broken down car. Or that he’d had words with the shopkeeper. Or that he’d overheard skiers telling friends about stopping to help and getting scared out of their ski pants… And then there’s his laugh.
Recording is the answer.
My mother has a recording of HER mother from the early 1980s, and hearing Big Nanny’s voice, her tisk-tisk sound, her laugh… it’s soothing and exciting. I’m a cultural historian, and her voice is as important to me as hearing her words, hearing about her early childhood, and how far we’ve come as a family — and a nation — that nobody lives within FEET of the railroad tracks any more. The sound of her voice says as much as her words.
A preservation technology firm will preserve and make available my grandmother’s voice. And I suggest that we get to work on capturing YOUR Family Oral History while you can. I will walk you through the whole process, researching and sculpting the perfect interview questions, conducting the online meeting/s with up to four attendees from anywhere with online access, and ensuring that you have multiple, accessible copies of your results. You’ll know more about your family and yourself, and you’ll have another tool in your parenting toolbox, too! Read more about it here. Reach out to have a conversation about Capturing Oral Family History: Angela@AngelaLTodd.com
And to get started passing your family history to your own kids, I have a handy guide to get you started. Dinnertime Family History gives you five prompts to talk your way through the school week about your generation and your parents’. Get your free guide OVER HERE and start tonight!
And follow along on Facebook, where I’ll be posting a family history prompt every #ThrowbackThursday !
I’ve written here before about the onus of healthy eating falling to moms. About moms feeling guilty. As things shift in larger culture, moms are telling me that they feel more “on the hook” than ever, and I feel it too.
Our grown up anxieties are spilling over onto our kids, and these days I don’t know how we’d ever completely exempt them from adult worries. Instead: I urge us to get our coping skills in place; feeling the feelings and making space for our kids to do the same.
I was on Facebook live recently, talking about holding space for our kids and I’d love you to check it out here.
Please don’t get distracted by the water I splashed on my shirt. Snort. #LetMomOffTheHook
My background is in cultural studies and women’s studies, and I have spent a lifetime tending to women’s changing roles in culture. Join me as I focus in on helping moms, particularly us moms of sensory kids. Come on over to AngelaLTodd on Facebook and follow along.