Recording Coronavirus Memories
By Dr. Jerry Lincecum and Dr. Peggy Redshaw
Family Food Tales and Recipes is Volume 12 in the publications of this popular Austin College program, which provides support and training for individuals who want to write personal stories and family histories. The project began offering monthly classes and annual contests for elderwriters in 1990, and is now in its third decade.
Co-directors of the project are two Austin College faculty, Dr. Jerry Lincecum, Professor Emeritus of English, and Dr. Peggy Redshaw, Professor Emerita of Biology.
- The first book, entitled Grayson County Reminiscences 1846-1996, was published in February 1996, to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Grayson County.
- Texas Family Secrets, published in 1997, was the second book.
- Appearing in 1999 was the third book, entitled Texas Millennium Book: The Way Things Used to Be.
- More Texas Family Secrets (2003) included an appendix on “How to Write Your Life Story.”
- The fifth book, Remembering School Days, has stories by 48 authors plus an index to Grayson County Common Schools of the early 20th Century.
- Volume 6, entitled First-Born, Middle Child, Caboose: Stories about Birth Order and Family Relationships includes stories by 47 authors.
- Volume 7, entitled Contemplating Cancer: Stories of Life, Love, Laughter, and Loss (2008) includes stories by 56 authors.
- Memories of the 20th Century, the eighth volume, is a collection of stories by Eleanor Monroe, one of the founding members of TOS and a 20-year participant in the classes.
- The Clock and The Storyteller: Memoirs of Shirley Clark (2009), the ninth volume, is a selection from the writings of another founding member and 20-year participant in TOS classes.
- Twenty Years of Telling Our Stories is Volume 10 in the publications of this popular Austin College program.
- Collected and New Stories of Miss Ima and Mr. Bill was published in 2011.
- In 2012, Family Food Tales and Recipes was published and contained over 40 stories.
- Memories of Wartime Wanderings: What I did in World War II, the memoir of Dr. Ann Van Wynen Thomas, was published in 2013.
- The latest book, How to Write Your Life Story, was published in 2014.
Copies of the last thirteen books may be purchased from Big Barn Books, 1603 Moreland Dr., Sherman, TX 75090-2351. Telephone: 903.893.6041.
Funding for “Telling Our Stories” has been provided by Austin College, Sherman Council on the Arts and Humanities, the Summerlee Foundation, and private individuals.
Why Telling Our Stories?
One reason for writing autobiographies and family history is to pass on personal experiences and feelings to one’s children, grandchildren, and other family members. A common sentiment expressed often in the TOS groups is the undeniable fact that the circumstances of everyday life have changed so much during the last hundred years that our grandchildren will not believe the “primitive” conditions of their ancestors’ early lives. Just think about explaining such details as drawing water from a well, canning and preserving fruits and vegetables, taking a bath in a #3 washtub, doing laundry in a black pot with lye soap, or sewing on a treadle machine. Reading a personal account written by one of your ancestors is far more persuasive than listening to a history lecture or reading a textbook chapter about societal changes.
Another motivation for Elderwriters is to review one’s life in order to better understand certain aspects. Although laughter and humor are the mainstays of TOS groups, many of our writers have also revisited painful or even tragic experiences and attested to the therapeutic value of doing so. Carrying out a life review by writing stories has enabled many elders to appreciate who they are and how they reached the point they have come to.
The key to success in TOS is that instead of struggling alone, participants discover the pleasure of listening to other’s stories about their life experiences, read aloud by mostly untrained, struggling writers. What all of them need, and TOS supplies, is, first of all, reassurance that they can write readable, interesting prose (despite what some stuffy English teacher might have said decades earlier). Second, they need specific assignments with deadlines, and third, we all want sympathetic listeners who know the subject matter and will offer constructive feedback (often as simple as a knowing smile or nod).
Just as important as the number of stories written are the friendships and other forms of emotional support that have developed within the groups. As one long-time member commented, “Through listening to the stories I have read to this group, some of you know more about me than my own children do.” Group members are genuinely happy to see one another at the monthly meetings and always inquire about those who are ill or absent for other reasons.
What it boils down to is, TOS is habit-forming in the best sense: you enjoy hearing others’ stories, and want to present your own. Accordingly, every month you make the effort required to write or at least start a story. We also discovered the “domino effect” of one person’s story reminding others of similar experiences (long forgotten), and the role of positive “peer pressure” (not wanting to disappoint the group by failing to bring a story to read). It would be hard to overestimate the power of the group-process in motivating participants not only to write but also to do their best. Writers learn from peers more effectively than from professors too.
Leader: Dr. Jerry Lincecum
Professor Emeritus of English, Austin College