By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published October 5, 2017
“Your life story is the greatest legacy that you can possibly leave to your family and friends.”
Steve Saint, missionary and author
If you’ve ever sat around a campfire with family or friends, it’s inevitable that someone will start telling a story, then another and another. Pretty soon everyone is caught up in the rapture and magic of storytelling. One of the great losses of advancing technology has been the gradual erosion of storytelling in our families. Television, smartphones and social media have overtaken family conversation. As a result we are in grave danger, as a society, of failing to pass along the lore, legend and legacy of our generation and prior generations to our children and grandchildren. There are memories that we hold in the recesses of our collective memories that need to be shared, treasured and preserved.
Our generation has witnessed more change in the past 50-plus years than any other generation in history. We have an obligation to communicate and share our experiences and memories. Just think about what we have lived through: the introduction of television (black and white, then color), computers, Windows, the age of Apple, Macintosh, iPhones, iPods, iPads, iTunes, the cloud, Bluetooth and wireless, Google, faxes, texting, transistors, fiber optics, copy machines, calculators, propeller-to-jet aircraft (DC3 to DC8, 707 to 787 and the Concorde), rockets, space flight, air conditioning, organ transplants, genetic engineering, bar codes and scanners, artificial intelligence, CDs and DVDs, DNA testing, remote controls, microwaves, GPS, automatic transmissions, World Wide Web, internet, cell and smartphones, social media, satellite dishes, drones, video game consoles, penicillin, the pill, antibiotics, pacemakers, arthroscopic surgery, CAT scan, laser surgery, heart, liver and kidney transplants, contact lenses, nuclear power, solar energy, wind turbines, domed stadiums, electric cars, Uber and Lyft, credit cards, diet drinks, camera film to disposable cameras to digital cameras, robots, Amazon, online shopping, Walmart, organic craze, and so on. Yes, and even the invention of Post-it notes and duct tape!
The list continues
How can we provide a view of what our daily life was like decades ago? We were witnesses to things that were leading edge at the time but now seem old fashioned; things like wringer washers, outside clothes lines, party phone lines, dial and pay phones, long distance calling, listening to radio programs, introduction of fast food by chains like McDonald’s and Wendy’s, pizza, indoor shopping malls, stereo, record stores, 78-, 45- and 33-rpm vinyl records, 3D movies, cassettes and eight-track tapes, Disneyland and Disney World, comic books, hula hoops, Frisbee, Barbie and Ken, tube TVs to digital flat screen TVs, cowboy heroes like Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, defunct car brands (Studebaker, Pontiac, Mercury, Plymouth, Packard, Edsel), box office blockbusters like “Casablanca,” “Gone With the Wind,” “Ben Hur,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Sound of Music,” ZIP and area codes, bubble gum, baseball cards, marbles, BB guns, Lincoln Logs, Coke in green glass bottles, tab top cans, IBM Selectric typewriters, Geritol, Baby Ruth candy bars, saddle shoes and bobby sox, jukeboxes, “I Love Lucy,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Johnny Carson, “The Honeymooners,” transistor radios, aluminum Christmas trees, electric ranges, home perms, drive-in movies, soda fountains, selfies, ballpoint pens, mood rings, pet rocks, roller skates and bell bottoms, poodle skirts and miniskirts, Life and Look magazines, morning and evening edition newspapers, the draft (Selective Service Act) and more.
In addition, we lived through major historical events like the assassinations of JFK and MLK, the music from the Big Band era, coming of rock and roll (Beatlemania, Beach Boys, Chicago, Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Neil Diamond, and so on), Pope John XXIII and Vatican II, A and H bombs, World War II, D-Day, Pearl Harbor, Korea, Vietnam, the Holocaust, the Cold War, 2000 Millennium, Sputnik, Apollo 11 and the first man on the moon, Apollo 13 rescue, space shuttles, the Challenger disaster, the Berlin Wall, Watergate, Civil Rights Act, integration, Cuban missile crisis, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island disasters, Gulf Wars, 9/11, the Beat Generation, hippies, Woodstock, Watergate, inner city riots, Princess Diana’s death, Miracle on Ice, “Thrilla in Manila,” Muhammed Ali, Hurricane Katrina, Boston Marathon bombings, Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and more.
It’s our job
The fact is that our generation has experienced things that our grandchildren can’t possibly know about or comprehend in total. It is our job to pass along our lore, legend and legacy to our children and grandchildren so they can tell their children about our experiences. It’s the “Roots” thing, up close and personal.
The greatest legacy that any of us can leave is the unification and solidification of our individual family units. The best way to accomplish this is through communication, especially storytelling. One of our key roles as the patriarchs or matriarchs of our families is to take the lead in passing along our experiences.
Turn off the TVs, smartphones and social media when you are with your children and grandchildren. Gather them around a campfire or the fireplace in the great room and tell them everything you can remember about your life. I predict that they will be captivated and you will create a lasting and tender legacy.
One way to start is to walk them through your life from grade school, then high school, then college, and the early days of your career and marriage. For instance, I went to a Catholic grade school in Ohio where the boys and girls were separated. I was never in a mixed classroom until I got to college. We were taught by nuns and teaching brothers. The nuns wore black habits with deep pockets that held a myriad of things, including a wooden clicker used to get our attention or knock our knuckles if we misbehaved. The desks had inkwells but no ink. The cursive posters were above the blackboard. There were steam radiators for heat, but no air conditioning, so in the fall and spring we opened the windows and sweated a little. We had daily Mass followed by a breakfast (back then we had to fast from midnight until we received communion). We went to confession every Friday morning. We played sports in the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) program. We walked to school, rain or snow. We received a quality education supported by some strict discipline standards. The nuns and brothers made us behave. If we were disciplined, we didn’t tell our parents for fear we would get another round of discipline at home.
Your children and grandchildren will be enthralled to hear your life journey. When you complete your school experiences, go to your early career and marriage, areas that are full of memories, some beautiful and enduring, some difficult and sad, which reinforces that life has its ups and downs.
When it’s all said and done, our lives are all about our families. Preserving the unique memories of our life experiences is a primary responsibility of our generation. I urge you to preserve your legacy now.
And send me a note if you can think of things we’ve experienced that I didn’t cover.
Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send Bill your thoughts on his and other topics, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.