Recording memories for future generations

The life story question game


My Thanksgiving blog post on 20 new life story questions to ask instead of asking everyone what they were thankful for this year was wildly popular. I decided to make a game of these questions to my own family.

I printed them out on 8 x 11 card stock. With kid art from my son I created twenty colorful leaves. Each person pulled a leaf out of a cardboard pumpkin, which revealed their question. There were four extra leaves so my daughter Helen added the following questions:

  1. If you could create world peace how would you do it? You have a magic wand, what does it do?
  2. If you has superpowers what would they be and how would you help everyone by using these superpowers?
  3. What is the weirdest thing you tried to eat at a Thanksgiving feast?
  4. As fast as you can, tell the story of how Thanksgiving became a holiday. Seriously, speak as fast as you can.

My elderly mother asked if we could have a potluck Thanksgiving dinner in the community room of her continuing care community, as she just didn’t want to leave the facility. Some 30 of us ranging in age from 2 to 92 descended on the community room. Let’s just say, we weren’t quiet. Families get loud and laughter echoes.

I packed my digital audio recorder and sat directly in front of each family member as they responded to the question. The more fun we had answering the questions the louder our voices got.

The whole game evolved into a game of regret where family members completed the sentence “I regret that…”  For the record, this is a game that could easily start a family argument, but it is funny.

Even a personal historian, who thinks she knows her family, has a lot of learn from a simple ice breaker that got everyone talking about family history and the things that value and appreciate in our lives.

Mom described how the celebration of Thanksgiving today has changed in her lifetime.  Growing up, she was one of two children in a household with two adults, two grandmothers who were young widows and a favorite uncle. No one came to visit. It was just them and a special meal.

Oh how my mother’s life has changed in 92 years! She went from having a quiet family day and the undivided attention of Uncle Pep to raising nine children and now requiring the reservation of a community room to host the family.

My brother John got the prize for the weirdest thing ever eaten. When he was stationed in Korea with the U.S. Army in 1979 he was hosted for dinner by a local family, part of a cultural exchange program. He ate marinated grasshoppers.

My sister who likes in Watertown, Mass pulled the patriotic question told me in great detail what it was like living in the Boston area following the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April. She lives about 500 yards from where the gunman was captured.  Because an entire region couldn’t move, they had to live with fallout of those horrific events every day. You couldn’t get away from the stress, the constant conversations, the media attention or the fear.  Having people from around the world reach out to thank the first responders and FBI agents or support the many charitable efforts to help bombing victims has helped the region heal slowly. It renews our faith in humanity and patriotism.

Apparently my sister Sandra is the person in the family who can make everyone laugh, even months later. I think she deserve a special prize for this.  Bravo, Sissy!

My brother-in-law Don described how traditions changed from when he was growing up on his grandfather’s farm in Virginia to living in New Jersey with our crazy big extended family.  His mother and aunt, by the way, are the best cooks. Truly they are. My stomach is still thankful for their fresh pecan pies from 20 years ago.

On the fun side, my niece Jenna would like to have a magic wand to eradicate greed from this world and move us toward world peace.

Nina would like to have a superpower that can pull people out of unhealthy or abusive situations and rescue them.

Name five things that made you happy today? Sandra got an easy question. Ben, Erica, Victoria, Mathew and Audrina.

The lesson I learned is that life story questions asked at a family gathering on a holiday have to be fun. You can take it seriously, but not seriously.  You can’t expect everyone to be quiet while one person answers a question. The audio interviews should be recorded with all the dish-clanking noise in play. The crosstalk that always happens is part of the fun in my family.

If you try it make sure copies of the recordings and transcriptions are sent to everyone.


One Response to “The life story question game”

  1. […] season, it’s a great time to reinvent holiday traditions with a little memory keeping game. I tried this last year and was surprised by the […]