August 13, 2008

Daily Blog 13: Fading History

Admittedly, I think my growing up was somewhat different, and I'm glad of it. My parents were a little older, mom achieving motherhood for the first time in her late thirties.

There were disadvantages to having slightly older parents, but one thing I always enjoyed was the family stories. Growing up in the Great Depression, mom and dad had experiences that even then seemed quaint and old-fashioned - reading by kerosene lamp, oilcloth-covered tables, putting a penny in the electric meter to "cheat" the meter. Photos revealed other links, a grandmother wearing high button shoes, mom as a teen in the 1930s looking cute and as fashionable today in jeans and a peasant top.

I seemed to soak up those old stories and developed a big interest in earlier decades. Forties music was a favorite. I still love Glenn Miller. I was fascinated by 78 records. I wondered what it was like growing up in the Roaring Twenties.

Not surprisingly, that love of past history makes it into my writing. For instance, Lita, Sam's best pal in Searching For A Starry Night, comments about her mother's favorite 70's song by Tony Orlando and Dawn, "Knock Three Times."

The group and title drew a big blank when I talked to a group of kids at a recent event. I'm sure some parents are getting asked who that is when their kids read the book.

When a group of middle grade girls recently asked what other books I was working on, I mentioned my adult mystery, which is set in an old vaudeville theater. That also drew blank stares, as did the name of comedian George Burns.

Ancient history? Maybe. But it's sad that with passing time, cultural history is fading away. Maybe I knew more than most, given I had an interest. I enjoyed different music and films from different eras. I knew tidbits of history. I knew and could enjoy watching Charlie Chaplin or silent film star Clara Bow.

It made me sad reading that the last US survivor of the Titanic had died. The last World War I veteran died at age 108. World War II soldiers are dying every day.

History passes, but as these generations die off, so goes that living link to the past, to what we were. That part of history becomes relegated to dusty old history books and unrecognizable faces in old cabinet photos left to the second hand or antique store.

Those people of past generations, their actions and their part in our ancestry, made us, and our country, what it is.

Sad to think that they are being forgotten; that present generations aren't learning more of their cultural history beyond what Miley is doing or which Jonas Brothers is cuter.

Sad that maybe the government's insistence on testing and pushing teachers to teach to the test is making cultural history nothing more than a footnote.

Or maybe in the rush of 21st century life - with demanding jobs, family activities, sports, etc. - there isn't time any more to talk, to remember grandma's favorite sayings and stories, to pull out the family photo album and talk about the "good old days". Don't families take time anymore to acquaint kids with the games mom and dad grew up with, or share those funny family stories about times before TV and modern conveniences?

Maybe there's not enough time, but there should be.

Why not take one night a month and reminisce, dust off the photos, write down those old stories? Maybe work on a family history project. It'll give the kids a solid foundation, a cementing of who they are and help them realize that the past really isn't so boring. And it'll make those rapidly fading parts of history less likely to vanish forever.


  1. This is one of my pet peeves. I used to hate history, but as I have gotten older, the value of it has become clear to me. It seems that fewer parents see the value in it. Do they not realize that histoyr is our foundation? It's why were are who and what we are!

    I met a home school mom at a festival who was telling me that her 2nd son who is in public school knew nothing of the Revolutionary war because the teacher doesn't think it has any value on us today, so he teaches around it.

    Can you imagine?

    Karen Syed

  2. Loved your post, Chris. I, too, grew up with an appreciation for my parents' taste in music, etc.

    My dad sang in a barbershop quartet and I loved hearing them practice. I'll go farther back than you, though. How about, "By the Light of the Silvery Moon?" or, "Moonlight Bay?"

    You're also right on about school "testing." All we're accomplishing is teaching kids how to take tests. Creative, huh?

  3. Good post, and one that I relate to, deeply. My parents also lived thru the Great Depression, and Dad always insisted I use BOTH sides of a sheet of paper, both parents were thrifty beyond any degree that is recognizable in today's society. And fading history - oh, yeah. I remember watching "Supersize Me" the movie. A bunch of kids were shown pictures of famous people. All the kids knew who Ronald McDonald was, but not one of them recognized a picture of Jesus.

  4. I think sitting down to do a little family history once a month is a great idea! Plus, I could learn a thing or too. I, like you, love hearing the 'old' stories. Time has changed so much over the past 50 years.....just think of what it will be like in another 50 years!

  5. I think it also helped that when I was growing up, extended family was close by. We visited aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins. Kids sat and listened while grownups talked and reminisced.

    Nowadays families are far apart, getting together once a year, if that often. Text messaging is not the same as listening to stories.

  6. A blog after my own heart. Everywhere I speak I urge people to write down what they remember as well as what they are doing now. We will only too soon be our descendants' history and there should be some record of it. I enjoyed your blog so much. Thanks for the memories.

  7. ha - Mary, yes I know the Barbershop songs too.... Listened to some as I did stories on them. Trying to think of that song about a "surrey," Anyone know?

  8. Oh, this was a wonderful and poignant post, Chris... And not just because I want to punch my computer whenever Miley's picture comes up on AOL's headline news.

    Gene Kelly...can you imagine not even knowing who Gene Kelly was?

  9. Hey Chris, would that song possibly be "Surrey with a Fringe on Top"?

    My children (and now, my grand-daughter) absorb a bit of history when they wander around our house. From the pre-Civil War tower musket on one wall and the high-button shoes in an antique trunk to the 50's thru 70's music on our Seeburg jukebox and Davy Crockett memorabilia everywhere, plus an early 1900's pump organ, we're a "touchable museum":)

    We have discussed historical events(and our own family histories)with our daughter & son since they were youngsters. They are now adults, and we are attempting to chronicle as much as possible for our grand-daughter. She already (at 16 mo.) loves to have the jukebox turned on - "Knock Three Times", "Snoopy & the Red Baron" and "North to Alaska" are her current favorites:)

    This discussion also brings to mind a pertinent quote, by George Santayana - - -"Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it." Or...maybe it was Sir John Buchan. . ."Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it."

    What are we teaching in our schools???!!!

  10. Oh the good old days. I love history and I agree that it is a pity more people aren't interested in it. I write historical romance, my favourite period being the 1st World War. I have visited the battlefields and cemeteries on the Somme in France also Belgium, a truly poignant experience. It makes me sad that people are too busy to remember what their forebears did. How they fought and died so we could enjoy what we have today. My parents lived theough the depression also and I can remember my mother never threw anything out, she could always find a use for it. My father kept re-soling his shoes, even though he didn't need to, but I think he never forgot the hard days of his youth.

  11. Christy, yes that song! Hey can I come to your house? wow! Glad to hear the kids like all those odd old songs! Jukeboxes remimd me of going to the old Buffalo ice cream parlor when it was in chicago - best ice cream and those little juke boxes on the tables!

    Margaret, thank goodness for historical writers. Would anyone care otherwise?

    You guys are all making me remember! Zhadi - I love Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. If anyone doesn't recognize them, that's a real crime!

  12. Chris,

    You are so right about kids of today and history. That's why I write historical fiction like True Friends. When they read about kids in a different time and place who have the same thoughts and concerns as they do, history comes alive for today's youth.

    Grace E. Howell

  13. You're absolutely right about the need to share our life stories. As a personal historian, I'm continually faced with people who say, "Who'd be interested in my story? My life hasn't been all that interesting." My response is,"Well, if you could read about the life of some distant relative, who would it be?" And not surprisingly, I haven't met anyone who hasn't come up with a name or two. And these were not celebrities. So, I tell them, "See, all our stories have some value to someone. Maybe not today but in the future someone will want to hear from you."

    One of my favorite quotes comes from Ellen Goodman who said, "…what the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we loved. In the end, it’s the family stories that are worth the storage.”


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