Thursday, February 23, 2012

"There is no one alive who is Youer than You!" -Dr. Seuss

Stories are the stuff of life. And if you think you have none to tell, think again. Every life brims with effervescent joy, gut-wrenching sorrow, poignant moments, fortunate turns of fate, miscalculations, and the details that define a particular time and place. Consider the declaration of Dr. Seuss: "There is no one alive who is Youer than You!" And, let me add, there never will be. What's more, some day those who come after you just may puzzle over your name and wonder … 

Sometime ago, my uncle Charles Johnston produced a comprehensive genealogy of my mother's side of our family, the Johnstons. He uncovered and included details of these people's lives three and four generations removed, but beyond that, the pickings were few. Farther back, there are only names, dates for their lifespans, locations where they were born, married, died. 

Some of the stories are tantalizing:

  • William Johnston strung the first barbed wire in the area around Pilot Point, Texas;
  • the Younger brothers helped themselves to some fresh horses on the Johnston Texas ranch, but kindly strapped some cash to a post in payment; 
  • great-great-great uncle George Haley attempted, unsuccessfully, to get on the Dawes Rolls in 1902, based on his grandmother's claims that she was an Indian from Alabama; 
  • the family dogs decided they didn't like the territory when the family headed north across the Red River into Oklahoma, so they high-tailed it back to Texas in just four days, a trek that the wagons had taken twelve days to make. (I'm not so sure about the intelligence of those dogs!)
But as I study my uncle's well-drawn family tree, tracing the names back and back through time and place, I find pretty much everything is left to the imagination: 

Allathy Hale, Thomas Allen, Nancy Toliver, Coonrod Dick. 

Who were these people? How did they make a living? Why did they leave North Carolina and Virginia? What was life like on the Tennessee frontier? What were their aspirations? What were their great joys and sorrows? Genealogy is great, but what are the stories? We will never know. 

A talented storyteller, my aunt Geneva Hudson was determined to leave a legacy rather than speculations about her life. In her memoir about her "growing-up years,"  "Barefoot in an Oklahoma Sticker Patch," she tells about her life in Oklahoma City during the Great Depression, the daughter of proud, hard-working, and independent folks. 
Her stories are a treasure that acquaint me with a grandmother I hardly knew. With her book, Geneva has preserved family memories and given roots to subsequent generations of our family. And others, looking for a charming and poignant account of those years in that place, have enjoyed it, too.

You have stories to tell, and so do I. Big or small, they have value in the telling. In this space, I plan to share some of my stories that I hope will inspire you to write down a few of your own. 

It really doesn't matter whether you want to share your stories with only friends and family or whether you would like to offer them to perfect strangers in a memoir. Writing down your stories fills in the gaps between names and dates on a page. Your stories tack down your life and are a treasure to be shared for those who come after you. They are your personal history of the human being who is you and only you -- your legacy, evermore. 

Let's get started!


  1. Laura - I couldn't agree more that leaving a personal history would be such a great gift to your family. I so wish my grandmothers/grandfathers had done such a thing. We have so few details about their lives - but oh are they intriguing details. As a writer myself, you've made me realize that I should start immediately on a personal history to leave for my son and daughter.

  2. "Your stories tack down your life," I like that. I think sometimes life does need tacking down. After my father died, for the first few Christmases, we would all write a favorite memory of him in a little book that we placed in his stocking. My nephews were young when he passed, and we wanted them to be able to look at these books years from now and enjoy not only our stories, but theirs which with the passage of time, they might have forgotten.