One of the reasons I love my job is because I get to meet seasoned people with the most wonderful stories and experiences. Listening to people’s stories is like dessert for my ears, and I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have a story. Listening to my Dad tell tales of his experiences as a horse packer in the Sierras during his college days, hearing my Grandma tell stories of Grandpa Rudy’s adventures as a new immigrant to the United States, listening to my mother tell me about the early days of my life when our family lived on the cattle ranch of Brown and Company up in the Tehachapi Mountains, or later on the Sudden Ranch on the California coast near Lompoc—these stories have given me a sense of connectedness to my family, a sense of who I am and where I come from, and an understanding of the debt I owe past generations that I can only pay forward. My family’s stories are both a history and a legacy, a responsibility and a commission.
The Endangered Species Act was designed to preserve precious life in the natural world. Species are regularly added to the Endangered List. Too often we learn of species that have become extinct. On rare occasion, however, a species like the Bald Eagle is taken off The List because its population has recovered to the point where it is no longer endangered. The human species is not on the endangered list, per se, but I think The List should contain the name of each individual human on the planet. When a person dies, the world has lost something precious, something irreplaceable.
What a tragedy when a person passes and all their stories die with them! A treasure of experience, wit, adventure, love, trial, faith, and knowledge is lost forever. Unless…unless their stories have been preserved. This is where you come in. You can be the family banker who saves this treasure so it doesn’t disappear. How? By simply taking the time to record the stories.
Don’t be put off thinking this has to be an immense task. It doesn’t. What I wouldn’t give to have a 20-minute recording of my great-grandparents simply telling the story of how they met? What a jewel it would be to have my grandfather’s own voice telling me how he felt when, as a young soldier, he learned The War to End All Wars was over, and he could go home. To hear their voices, even for a few minutes, to understand more about them than simply a name bookended with a birth date and a death date—what a prize that would be!
With a digital voice recorder (or a smartphone app), a glass of water, and a few questions to prime the story-telling pump you can save those stories, whether your own, your parents’, your grandparents’, a friend’s, an aunt’s. Heck, don’t stop there. Consider recording your children or grandchildren telling you their stories. Aside from preserving priceless family heirlooms, sharing these stories has the positive side effect of binding the hearts of one generation to another with cords of love. In addition to the estate you leave behind when you die, leave your family a legacy that will impact their lives in a significant way: leave them your stories, let them know what you value, share the depth of your soul. You can make a difference.
Here’s how to get started: National Public Radio (NPR) has a weekly radio show called Story Corp. The show’s website http://www.npr.org/series/4516989/storycorps includes a great Do-It-Yourself guide and instructions on how to conduct these interviews (click on Download at this link: http://nationaldayoflistening.org/participate/.) Personally, I have found a digital voice recorder ($25-$50) with a USB connection to be excellent—far better than using a cassette recorder (yes, those still exist). There are also smartphone apps that likewise serve as digital recorders. The digital device can hold hundreds of hours of recordings, saves them in MP3 format, and you can drag and drop the resulting files onto your computer as if you were using a USB thumb drive. Once on your computer, you can share and preserve the treasure you’ve captured.