The way things were

Alan Gowen

This past July my father celebrated his 78birthday. Every year my parents have a cookout and the whole family gathers for the celebration and every year it's just like the year before and over the years in fact it all sort of runs together. And this year there wasn't really anything out of the ordinary either, until it was time to go home.

As we were getting ready to leave from the birthday celebration my mother handed me a loose-leaf notebook. "This is for you", she said. I noticed that she had given one to each of my two brothers as well. We said our good-byes, got in the car and headed home. When we got home I opened up the note-book and looked at the first page. It said, "The Way It Was," by Marie Gowen.

My mother had taken the time over the past couple of years to record in narrative form all of her memories, beginning from her earliest recollections at age 2 or 3, and chronicling everything right up to the day that she and my father were married when she was 18. Along the way she explains the family genealogy, and bits of history as they related to other family members that were part of her life as well. What a wonderful gift to my brothers and me! Not only does this get down on paper the facts concerning what was going on during those years, but it also records those stories which up to this point were only told by my mother, and now that I see them on paper I realize if she hadn't written them down that after she was gone, those stories and that history would be gone as well. What a valuable treasure for not only my children, and me but for all generations to come. I think most families at some point think about recording the thoughts and memories of someone from the older generation, usually when that per-son begins to decline. What's so wonderful about what my mother did, and what I would suggest that we all do to some degree, is the format. When someone in the family takes it upon themselves to record the thoughts and memories of the declining old family member, what we get is that declining old family member's answers to the interviewer's questions. What Mom did was to record what was important to her, and so what we got was insight into what made this person who they are, as well as a very clear picture of how life was "back in the old days." And we got this written down as a resource from a clear and vital mind, long before any indication of any decline at all. Since my mother wrote her own history, I now know what was important to her as well as her feelings about those things. Since reading this information, I now know my mother better than I ever did before, and now the door is standing wide open to talk to her about some of the new insights that I've gained.

Which brings me to my point about all this. Since we all seem to have computers, maybe we should all be doing some-thing like this. All those stories we've told so many times that our kids don't pay attention to any more and have therefore nearly forgotten. The circumstances of past generations immigrating to the USA. The origin of the traditions that are part of the life of our families. It seems that if we would just take a few minutes here and there that over the years a lot of history could be recorded. This really hits home right now considering the recent death of Pam's father. We've all become acutely aware that a lot of family history died with him, along with the explanations of why he did this or that or moved his family, or changed jobs, or simply just how things were during his life

ln this age of email and videotape, our recorded history can be a very fleeting thing. One record of our history that historians have used for years is now almost a thing of the past. That is the personal letter. In the late 30's my grandfather and his uncle took a trip out west. Every night he would write a short letter to the family back home. I read those letters a few years ago, and now I know what gasoline cost back then, what motor courts were like and the color of the table cloth in the roadside cafe. I also know how fast that `32 Ford would go too.

It seems to me that the anecdotal history of each of us, written down, printed out, and given to members of our family, would clarify things for future generations, and then there would be no question as to "The Way It Was." But maybe it goes even a little further than this. Maybe there are even more advantages to recording personal experiences.

As a teenager, I felt a very real disconnect with the older generations. And now that I'm part of the older generations, I feel it once again. It seems to me that the disconnect between the generations is one factor breeding our misconception that we are each an independent creature whose agenda is only our own. The misconception that what we do and say is relevant to no one other than' ourselves, and therefore what matters most is ME. My happiness, my feelings, what I want to do to promote MY agenda seems to be paramount to our actions and daily decisions. This attitude is part of growing up, and seems to be more prevalent in the young, but it certainly isn't exclusive to only the younger generation.

What many of us don't get for much of our lives is that we are all connected and intertwined. Each person's words and actions have effect on others and therefore what we do and say can be of great importance. We are all riding on the same ship of life, traveling through time, some newly injected and others recently rejected, some older, some younger but all affecting the ship's stability and direction. We really aren't more intelligent, wiser, or morally proficient than our predecessors, we only have additional information.

When we lose the contact with yesterday our world be-comes smaller, and our ignorance of things past makes our journey through life more difficult indeed as we stumble along believing in the superiority of the modern ways. So often we travel through life ignorant of what is really important, having little concern for our effect on others and their feelings, problems, and this collective journey called life. It seems to me if more people took the time to write down their journey and passed it on this could have a great impact, not only for those that follow but others in daily contact. What if we all adopted a sense of connection with each other and lived our respective time here on Earth as if this was important to the collective well-being? I wonder what changes would occur? We could put all of our histories in a collective database, determine what was beneficial, truthful, useful, etc and save it for future generations. If wise people would study this database and glean lessons from it, we could save future generations the stupid process of relearning the same lessons all over again. With the computer we have the technology, we have the materials and the ability. We could use this database to make mankind better than he ever has been before. What could we call the database? Maybe we could call it the bible.

Read other articles by Alan Gowan