Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Great Thanksgiving Listen

By Jeff Burns

I have large southern families on both sides.  My father is one of 10 siblings, and while my mother only had one brother, her mother was the oldest of eleven, and their ages were such that she basically grew up as a sibling, not a niece.  Both of my parents are now deceased. Just recently, I served as a pallbearer for my 95 year old uncle, the last of my father’s generation.  My mother’s younger brother died this summer, and of the eleven in my grandmother’s generation, three survive.

 The Burns siblings (9 of them anyway), with my father on the far right. 
It is the only photo of all or almost all that I have. Taken 1984

My mother’s grandparents and their 11 children. 
My grandmother is on the far right.
Only known picture of them all together.Taken 1946.

Although we often had family reunions and were closer than many families, I don’t have much from my grandparents and beyond. They were generally poor working people just getting by, farmers and sharecroppers.  They didn’t have much in the way of belongings to pass down, and they weren’t great picture-takers or letter-writers or diarists. As an adult and especially as a history teacher, I regret that I didn’t engage them more about their lives and memories, and I bet most readers of this blog have similar feelings.

We recently shared a post on Facebook about a new initiative launched by StoryCorps called The Great Thanksgiving Listen, encouraging people to engage and interview their elders during the holiday season this year.  This is a great idea.  Give it a try.  Whether you submit the results to StoryCorps or not, you will learn something.  And don’t think it’s just for Thanksgiving.  You can do it anytime, with relatives, neighbors, or anyone else.  So, get out and DO history!

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