Oral Histories & Memoir
Oral Histories/ Family Histories
The tape recorder (or digital recorder) is a miraculous invention. As are digital cameras with video capability, video cameras, iphones and other such smart phones and smart devices that record audio, take photos, and take video clips.
So many people use these devices to record special events or gatherings of family or friends. But how many people sit down to “interview” someone with one of the devices, or ask someone to simply talk about a topic, to “tell me a about . . . .”?
I encourage people to get in the habit of recording a family member or friend for the sake of posterity. I also like to transcribe these taped interviews. It’s time-consuming, but worth it to have the printed word. The written text (or even the recorded clips) can be gathered into a book, along with photos, reproduced, and given as gifts to family members and friends. Your ten-year old will cherish this gift when she’s 50 or 60—and you’ll cherish it right now as well.
Speaking of which: we often think of oral histories as being told by the “old timers.” Children are great storytellers, and it can be really interesting to hear them tell about a trip they took, or what they did on a certain holiday, what toys or games or movies or activities they like, or what they think of a presidential election, etc. What are their hopes and dreams? Fifty years down the road, such details can be a window into life and culture in “the old days,” the ones we’re living right now.
If you Google “oral history project” or “oral history” you’ll find a lot of great sites. Some universities, such as UCLA and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, host oral history archives and projects. Several veteran’s groups host sites specific to vets. There are oral history sites for survivors of the Holocaust or the Japanese Internment. Many of these sites give tips on how to get started and how to interview well when doing an oral history. Check out http://storycorps.org, one of the largest projects around.
You’ll never be sorry that you recorded an oral history, but you’ll certainly be sorry that you let the opportunity pass, especially when you lose one of your beloved family members or friends.
An alternative to doing an oral history of someone else is writing your own story: a memoir or personal experience essay or book. Many people say they don’t have anything “interesting” in their personal histories to write about. Are you kidding me? Every person’s life is full of memorable events, characters, and experiences—not to mention the unique voice and perspective of each person: you, the writer. Start tapping those computer keys. Or if you’re really daring, get out a pen and piece of paper and start writing the old fashioned way. As with most creative writing, you won’t be sorry you wrote about an experience; you’ll just regret, maybe years later, not having written it down.
Animal Rescue/ Pet Adoption
For years I didn’t like dogs at all. I wanted nothing to do with them. My “adoptive” family the Marins are all dog people, all the dogs being strays or rescues. It took a few years, but slowly something started to change in me. I actually looked forward to seeing the dogs when I visited them. I’d bring them treats, play with them, ask about them when I hadn’t seen them in a while.
Finally I found myself browsing a few animal adoption or rescue websites, still not even fully conscious that I was looking for a dog. Until I saw the photo of the short haired little black dog Bianca at Pet Orphans of Southern California (www.petorphans.org). It was love at first sight. That is, until I met her in person. She completely ignored me.
It took a few visits and a lot of debate on my part, but I couldn’t get her out of my mind. So I took the plunge, went back, and got her. Bianca, my black dog named “Whitey” (“bianca” means “white” in Italian). They guessed she was about eight years old, maybe older, and since I figured she’d had the name so long, I wouldn’t change it. Right before taking her home I learned that Pet Orphans had named her Bianca when she arrived five months earlier. What the heck. I was used to the name by then, so I kept it.
Bianca quickly bonded with me and has been my soul mate ever since. We’ve driven across the country twice, flown across the country together a couple times, attended outdoor concerts and fireworks, barbecues, and Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter celebrations. We’ve walked in and raised funds for the Pasadena Humane Society’s annual Wiggle Waggle Walk where she won second prize in their pet tricks contest. She’s gone kayaking and swimming with me, both of which she hates, so no more water sports for Bianca. We’ve sat together on the banks of the Mississippi River, and we’ve walked in the Rocky Mountains. We’ve stayed in hotels and motels, and we’ve shared Chinese food, a hot dog, and fruit salad while on the road. She even went to a Catholic church service with me.
Bianca came to me as a dog who would not (and still does not) play with toys or chew on anything other than food. But after lots of patient, step-by-step training (of me more than her), she now knows all the necessary commands to help me when I fall or have medical flare-ups. She picks up dropped pencils, pens, keys—even some papers and store receipts. She can bring me the phone. I can even point with my cane or my finger to what I want her to bring me. The secret: lots of praise, patience, and treats. She’ll even run and retrieve a thrown dog toy only because there might be a treat when she brings it. Otherwise she still never plays with toys. Why bother? Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? This old dog learned almost as quickly as she did.
Adopt a pet from your local animal shelter or rescue group. DO NOT BUY from pet stores unless you’ve thoroughly checked out their animal suppliers. Many pet store puppies come from puppy mills. The “breeder” dogs are kept in cages, often wire, at these mills, often with their feet never touching the ground, and are bred constantly until they can no longer produce, at which time they are disposed of. NOT buying from such pet stores helps discourage the profitability and we hope existence of puppy mills. Likewise, DO NOT BUY from breeders of purebred dogs/ cats or other animals. If you want a purebred pet, check your animal shelters or rescue groups. Purebreds are often available in such places because they’re “not good enough” to show or breed (which means, bottom line, make money for their owners).
Spay and neuter your pets. Adopt an older animal. Save a life. Enrich your own.