November 17, 2015

The Great Thanksgiving Listen - NaBloPoMo

Today's NaBloPoMo post also appears in Metroparent Milwaukee.

I don’t remember mom enlisting me to help her with Thanksgiving dinner prep, it somehow happened naturally. It was an annual exercise that ultimately helped me absorb family recipes and replicate them now that I have a family of my own.

We must have exchanged a thousand stories in between the stirring, chopping and tasting.

Now, in the week before Thanksgiving, the stories of social and political unrest and extreme violence frighten us. But startling as they are - they are, unfortunately nothing new. History is a continuum of life-changing, civilization-changing events – many of them frightening.

How I feel about it all is heavily shaped by motherhood; and sometimes, I wish I knew how my mom felt of about the social issues going on when my siblings and I were kids through her lens of motherhood.

But throughout our years of Thanksgiving cooking and stories, those particular stories were never told because I never thought to ask:
  • What was her reaction to public prayer being outlawed in public schools when my oldest brother was a toddler and my sister was an infant?
  • What was she feeling when JFK was assassinated days after my older brother was born?
  • Was she fearful when race riots broke out in Milwaukee after MLK’s assassination? Did she have an unspoken plan in her mind to keep all of us safe?
  • Did she fear terrorism during the Iran Hostage crisis?
My mom’s been gone for almost thirty years, so I’ll never know. Lesson learned. So now I look at Thanksgiving dinner prep and Thanksgiving gatherings as more than a time for passing down recipes, eating and reconnecting with family and extended family.

Thanksgiving is also a valuable time for stories, and that’s what StoryCorps’ Great Thanksgiving Listen is about. Kids 13 and older have an opportunity to “interview” extended family and learn about their family’s place in history. Anyone can do this, and an app has been developed to help people record the stories which will then live on in The Library of Congress.

According to an NPR interview with the project’s founder, the Great Thanksgiving Listen’s ultimate purpose is to "create a very powerful and important bottom-up history, history through our voices, through our family's voices and stories of the last 75, 80, 90 years of United States history."

So in between Thanksgiving’s chopping and measuring, eating and napping, and even the Packers game, I'll encourage my daughter to ask questions. I'll encourage her listen and soak up our family’s place in history.

And maybe thirty years from now when she has kids of her own, she'll look back on the stories she collects...and she’ll be thankful.

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