My dad immigrated to the United States when he was 9 years old and lived with an aunt and uncle in Olmsted Township. He had many stories about his first few years in America … coming over on the boat, buying a banana and eating the peel because he didn’t know any better.
As I look back, there were so many stories. Now, years later, I wonder if I remember them correctly and many of them I’ve forgotten. The other day, my oldest daughter asked me if Grandpa Ferenec had an accent (he passed away six years before she was even born). I was shocked by her question. How could she even ask me that? Of course he did; everyone knew it. Then I realized: How could she know? By the time she was born, only snippets of his life came up in conversation.
Last summer, a very special man here at the Senior Center, Isom Elrod, gave me a transcript to read he had put together of his life story. He was an interesting individual who did a lot in his lifetime. The short story was intriguing because of all Isom did and because he, literally, escaped death on numerous occasions. After reading the short story, I told Isom, “This is good, but it left me wanting more.” Soon after, Isom got sick and passed away last fall.
Everybody has a story to tell. Every person’s life is interesting. No matter how ordinary you may think your life is, it can be extraordinary to your family – especially about days gone by. Telling your stories helps you appreciate your struggles and accomplishments and helps your children and grandchildren see a whole other side of you.
For your family, friends and loved ones, your life story is your most important legacy. Your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will get to know the real you. Besides entertaining your loved ones with amusing stories of pleasant times, you can describe how you overcame troubled times, teaching survival skills by example and providing inspiration for someone facing similar challenges in the future.
Last spring, the Ohio Department of Aging asked for stories about the Great Depression from Ohioans who lived through it. They wanted to gather recollections and lessons learned so people of today could use some of these perspectives on our current economic situation and perhaps get some advice for surviving in adversity. More than 300 individuals sent in their stories of life during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. They are now posted at http://aging.ohio.gov/news/greatdepressionstoryproject/.
While documenting your personal history may seem overwhelming at first, if you do it a little at a time, you will find it much less intimidating and very rewarding. Or, just telling stories to family as they visit will help open up new doors of interest for everyone.
There is no greater gift we can give our loved ones than the stories of our lives. By saving our stories, we create a legacy for our families, make history come alive, increase our own appreciation for the paths our lives have taken and ensure that our lives will not be forgotten. Don’t wait until it’s too late – start your legacy now.
By Rita Price, director, North Ridgeville Office for Older Adults