Regrets. I have had a few. But then again, don’t we all?
You regret that 1980’s hair-do that today looks like a hair-don’t.
You regret selling you first car.
You regret watching Dr. Oz, and then wondering “how did I get sucked into this?” and “There is an hour I will never get back.”
Even though you and I haven’t met, I know that it has happened to you. No, shhh, really, it’s our little secret.
Really, I won’t say a word to anyone. Who would I tell?
What I really regret though is that I never sat down with my mother and had a tape recorder of her telling me the stories that she knew from he childhood.
And once your parents are dead and gone, there is this terrible silence that you cannot shake.
Now my mother was a talker. There is the story about how she almost blew off her hands trying to make a homemade fire cracker when she was a kid, or how she figured out how to start her older brothers car and drove it around and around the farm yard with him chasing after her so he could save the car and wring her neck. And there was the one about the night in the late 1930s of the Kirkpatrick, Ohio, girls basketball game which started with a packed gym, only to see the people there for the game leave, little by little, until the only people left were the players and the ref. The gym at the country school was in a wooden building behind the brick school building. So the ref called a time out and both teams wandered outside to find that a house across the road – and the home of one of the players, a girl named Pearl Deitch, – was burning down and that the crowd was trying salvage whatever they could for the family so it wasn’t a total loss.
I was about nine at the time she told me this and I asked “Why weren’t they fighting the fire?”
“Because it was 1937 and Kirkpatrick didn’t have a pressurized water system. People had wells and pumps, that’s why.”
“What did you do? What did Pearl do?” I asked.
“What do you think we did? We finished the game. We were playing Martel! Kirk was not
going to forfeit to them.” When my mother said “Martel” she squished up her face like a bad smell, indicating that even after 30 years and a world war there was little love lost between Kirkpatrick, and Martel, Ohio.
Now the basketball game is one kind of story. She could have just told the story. But what I got out of it was that while all hell was breaking loose, the girls of Kirkpatrick had a job to do and they weren’t going to lose to Martel. Pleasant, maybe. Martel, never.
When I work with people and clients and groups, one of the things that I try to emphasize is that part of the legacy that we leave behind are the stories about the every day minutia – that “little stuff” that we do, or see of pass every day, means something. And for people living in the future, that little stuff means a great deal, because most people don’t write down those memories or explain how it all worked.
Let me give you an example. About 13 (2004) years ago I wrote a book for Arcadia Publishing (under my birth surname) about my hometown, and in it I had a picture of the S&H Green Stamp redemption center. At a gathering, after the book was released someone who came for an autographed copy was in the group around me, with her teenage granddaughter.
“…and I loved how you included pictures of the places uptown that I remember. Like Isaly’s and the S&H Green Stamp center. I still have the toaster that I got there after my husband an me was married.”
Her granddaughter, who would have rather been anywhere but there, and thus quite put out by her chatty grandma, rolled her eyes and said, with great exasperation “What is a green stamp?”
There was a gaggle of responses, all at once and the girl seemed confused. So I said: “Green stamps were given by merchants, to customer who bought things, as a reward for shopping in the store. It was a value added. You collected the stamps, licked them, pasted them in books, and collected the books until you had enough to buy what you needed from the catalog, or from the redemption center.”
This was a totally foreign concept to her. But her confusion morphed to disgust after I said that “you collected the stamps, licked them, pasted them in books, blah, blah, blah…” In fact I don’t think that she got beyond the word licked.
“Wait a minute,” she said with a look like I just hacked up a hairball.
“A stranger hands you something and you licked it?”
Grandma jumped in “Well, honey, those stamps were just like cash. So you had to paste them in a book, or you could have missed out on lots of things that you needed and didn’t have the money for.”
At this point, you would have thought that the teen had witnessed a crime, but couldn’t believe anyone around her was bothered by it.
“You wouldn’t let me eat unwrapped Halloween candy, but you let my mother lick those stamps when she was my age? What if those people had dirty hands?”
“Darling,” said another woman, “it was a different time. And those stamps could get you a color TV so we could watch the Wonderful World of Disney. Now I never licked them – I used a sponge and a little bit of water. But that ruined the sponge af-ter a while, but you could even get wall to wall carpet through S&H.”
So there you had it. Ruin a dime store sponge or glue tongue. Life was a simpler.
And it went on for a little while, all the time the teenager seemed amazed that anyone would do anything so gross as to lick a stamp.
And who amongst would think to even write down a memory of trading stamps? But they were part of every day life. In greater Cleveland, where I spent the first 14 years of my life, Pick & Pay Super Market stores handed out Eagle Stamps, which were green too, and we licked those things because you could redeem them at The May Company. Each book equaled three dollars – and you could get stuff with three dollars in the 1960s.
I bring this up because during RootsTech my husband and I dined with two presenters, and one of the presenters teenage daughters. And up came the topic of trading stamps. And guess what? The same reaction as the girl in Marion years ago.
“You licked them? Ugh! No, really – a stranger gave you something and you licked it?”
But she listened and she learned, and she was able to make a connection to her grandmothers, to her mother, to women who had to make do with less. In part because it was such a foreign idea, but on some level – the “gross” factor, that was the hook.
We also talked about other things from our childhood. TV’s with wooden cases. A house having a rotary dial phone. Party-lines. And remote control TV’s that had the remote tethered by a cable. And last be not least, tube TV’s and the Alliance Tenna-Rotor – a device that moved the television antenna around for the best possible reception. The in-house controller is on the right, and you turned the dial and waited as the unit made a noise that went “ker-CHUNK” for each degree that the antenna on the top of the house, or the tall pole if you lived in a rural area. Oh, yes – this really existed.
So when you are considering what it is that want to leave behind, or record for a day, always consider the big life changing events. But don’t forget to get down on paper, or on audio the little stuff that you remember.
I promise you, that little stuff will pay big dividends in the future.