He tells tales around the kitchen table and gets laughs for his "way back when" exaggerations -- why not give Granddad something to record his memories in for your kids? Here's tips on how to help him start a journal and preserve his life stories for generations to come.
When Father's Day rolls around each spring, American families gather to honor the love and commitment Dad has for his children. Through recollections of the happy, sad, touching, or funny moments in the daily life of a family, their unique stories and remembrances are shared. Grandchildren may be amazed (or shocked!) to learn that Uncle Tim once played professional hockey or that Grandpa was locally famous at age 14 when he won all his soapbox derby races.
But there are only so many tales that can be shared aloud in one afternoon or weekend together - and even though you may visit often via phone or web cam, the stories may not come so easily or naturally.
So how can those vivid memories be preserved for the rest of the family to cherish in the future? Perhaps by giving Grandpa a journal. It may be just the encouragement he needs to write down his memories for posterity. Though Grandpa may not consider himself a writer, there are ways to persuade him that each life story is special enough to capture on paper, no matter how long or short. And even if his handwriting isn't as perfect as it once was, that's part of his story, too. Here's help in getting started:
Provide a starting point for stories.
Maybe it's a prompt in the form of a question like, "As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?" or "How did you learn to swim?" The prompt might be a request to tell something, such as "Tell about the naughtiest thing you ever did," or "Share a fond memory of your mother." These prompts will stir the childhood memory pot and allow Grandpa to tell his own growing-up story.
Let him "practice" these stories with you verbally.
When spending time with him, use some prompts and then ask follow-up questions that come to mind as you converse together. Once he has told some tales aloud to an interested listener, it may be easier to write them down and recall additional stories later.
Don't expect Grandpa to write about his whole life in one day.
Or even one month. Break it down into small pieces, perhaps asking him to write down one memory each day or encouraging a more ongoing, open-ended approach. In a year's time, a collection of stories will have been recorded.
Know that one story leads to another.
Encourage Grandpa to freely associate one experience with other ones without limits, whether the events seem related or not. It's okay to veer off the memory path in different directions. For example, perhaps Grandpa starts telling a story about his favorite dog, Bobby, but he moves on to a story about when he was so sick he almost died and the puppy stayed by his side and licked his face to keep him awake. Or maybe that story leads to the memory of fixing a car, when the dog stepped in leaking oil and pranced through the house, leaving a trail of oily paw prints behind - and his mother's unhappy reaction!
Be interested and engaged.
After Grandpa has written down his thoughts and recollections, take the time to read them, and then ask more questions so he can offer additional details. A video or tape recorder can be an excellent tool to capture voices, but place it unobtrusively so it still feels like a conversation, not a command performance. Share the stories with other family members in his presence for additional opportunities to converse.
Also see: Granny Guru's Advice on Parenting through the Generations