By Annie Gebel
My grandmother made such lovely photo albums. She scrapbooked before it had a name, cutting quotes and flowers from cards and thoughtfully placing them with the pictures she took. I remember many times sitting in front of the cabinet she kept them in and looking through pictures of things that happened before I was born. I would ask about my Aunts’ wedding dresses or which babies were which cousins and Grandma’s sun-bronzed fingers would point to the pages. I can hear her laughter as she recalled stories she hadn’t thought about in ages.
If cell phones were all the rage then that they are now, I’d probably have pictures of us looking at pictures. “Smile Grandma, we’ll take a selfie to remember this moment by.” Instead, I have memories and that’s ok. In fact, it’s more than ok in my opinion.
I have a sneaking suspicion that we click pictures left and right on our phones and whatever else, but don’t connect with the photos the same way. Many people don’t print them, put them on their walls, or into actual albums the way we used to. And I believe, like Grandma might have, that the story telling is really what’s important – the pictures are merely starting points. But texting something funny or sharing a moment on social media may assure its life in the great yonder of the internet forever and ever, but it doesn’t encourage sharing of stories the way sitting together and flipping through pages does.
Now I’m not saying that technology is a waste of time, or anything that crazy. You are reading this on the internet, right? I am saying, though, that it shouldn’t be one or the other. The new-fandangled gadgetry of tomorrow has a place just as the tried and true methods of yesterday do. That’s the message I want to pass on to my children, no matter how much they beg for go-pros for their bike helmets.
This goal begs the question of how we keep our kids connected to the traditions and stories of our pasts. The answer: Share whatever we can, whenever we can.
I let the kids take pictures! They don’t have phones yet and can’t use ours, but they can use the actual camera to capture some moments that will hopefully bring back memories for them some day. And they take part in helping to pick the pictures we print for our albums and walls. They even choose some for their rooms and I’m thinking of letting them start albums that they can take with them someday when they move out. (I actually just thought of that while I was writing and I love the idea. Thanks for inspiring me.)
My daughter, especially, loves looking at our albums. So I try not to turn down a chance to sit with her and remember when she was little or tell a story about when I was little…like how my grandparents used to get the same gift in different colors for cousins that were similar ages. And one year my cousins Kristi, Kelly, and I each got a set with a brush, comb, and mirror. Mine was mint green. I loved it so much! Who wouldn’t?
We cook and bake together. All three kids have enjoyed standing on the step stool next to me at the counter. We’ve rolled galumpkis (Lithuanian stuffed cabbage rolls), baked birthday cakes, and stirred up lumpy gravy. (Just strain the lumps – a little family secret.)
My husband and I grew up together and now we live a few thousand miles from our original homes. So, when we travel to New York we are reminded of all sorts of memories, some that we share with the kids. There are the trees we helped tap for sap and the uncle that still makes syrup. There are trees we used to climb that we encourage the kids to monkey play in now. We can even walk through the tree farm at Granny Goff’s where many a Christmas tree has been found. Apparently we have a lot of memories about trees!
When the kids have the chance to hang out with their grandparents – I highly encourage that! There are always cookies to be made, fish to catch, wood to pile, lawns to mow, cards to play, four wheelers to ride, books to read… Whether the kids are helping around the house or enjoying some fun time, nothing encourages story-telling and reinforces tradition like generations spending time together.
We write letters to friends, family, and occasionally strangers who ask for them on social media (not wackado strangers, mind you, more like sick children)! I think writing letters is a lost art and one that I would love to see make a comeback. So, we write notes to say hello, to share gift wish lists, and to say thank you after holidays and birthdays. As my fellow HaveHeart writer, Theresa Christine, said a few months ago in her article about post cards, snail mail is, “a little one-of-a-kind gift in the mailbox intended to brighten someone’s day.”
We explore our ancestry. By making a family tree we can not only see what was going on with our relatives a generation ago, but we can make guesses about what might have been going on centuries before any of us were even thought about! It’s a great way to teach history, be creative, and show that people accomplished impressive things (like escaping WWI Eastern Europe in a hay wagon) before the age of handheld computers.
We appreciate current technology and do let our kids dabble in it, a little more as they gain more responsibilities. But, they’re also learning about the roots of family, tradition, and storytelling. After all, I credit my grandmother with my love of photo albums and their associated stories. And if it’s Grandma-inspired, you know it’s worth practicing and protecting. So, pass it along.