Inter-Generational Storytelling – Switch & Board

Inter-Generational Storytelling

Two years ago I flew across the country to take a little road trip with my mother. It was summer, it was beautiful, and we had a great time. We talked a little about the trips she’d taken with her own mother who was sitting this one out at home. 

I love spending time with my mom and not just because she’s my mom and I love her. I love spending time with her because she has stories. She has a life of stories behind her belt and many more to come.

Look, I’m a big TV fan and I tend to view the world through that lens. With that in mind, her story is a spin-off of her parents’ stories, and my story is a spin off of hers. Her stories are a part of my origin story, so I feel connected to them. I can listen to an old story and ask new questions about it to get new levels of insight into history, culture, and even my own psyche. They’re infinitely “re-watch-able” just like my favorite TV shows. 

On our trip, I mentioned that I wished Grams was with us to I could ask some new questions about her stories. She grew up in a tiny farming community in Saskatchewan. Her mom died when she was quite young and she got her very own, real-life, *evil stepmother. The shit really hit the fan when her dad died too. 

*For the record, I have my doubts about how “evil” this woman was since everyone knows being a stepmom is hard. It was a hard time for my grandmother, but, no doubt if we could get the other side of the story, we’d learn that her stepmother was having a hard time too.

She came home one day to find herself locked out. Her stepmother didn’t want her around anymore.

She has one of those stories that includes her trekking to a one-room school house in the snow before sunrise to light the fire before the other students arrived. She came home one day from school to find herself locked out of her house. Her stepmother didn’t want her around anymore. She had to walk to the next village over and live with her two wacky spinster aunts instead. 

This epic story has always enthralled me. How could this woman drinking wine and baking bread before me have once led such an unstable and tumultuous life?

That summer with my mother I remember saying “I want to talk to Grams more. I don’t want these stories to disappear.”

Seniors aren’t known for their tech skills and if they’re anything like my Grams, they don’t necessarily see their stories as special. That is probably why I’m seeing more and more companies aimed at helping Gen Xers and Millennials record their loved ones’ stories. There are picture services, memoir services, and there’s even a non-profit helping Canadian seniors start podcasts. 

This makes a ton of sense to me. I would love more than anything to record a podcast with my grandmother. I want to ask her about her stoicism, about why she never complained, and about how she went from living on a rural farm with an outhouse to working the switch boards at a telephone company. Even if the show didn’t hit #1 on the charts, it would always be there for future generations. I wish my grandparents had recorded their parents so I could try to understand what it was like to emigrate to North America from Scandinavia in the early 20th century. Or what it was like to escape poverty in Ireland, get married on the boat ride over, change your name, and drown yourself in whiskey in Toronto. But, alas, I will never hear their stories.

In these times of quarantine and separation when we’re all Zooming our loved ones anyway, why not hit record? We’re perfectly poised to document inter-generational stories and instead we’re busy photographing newly baked bread and cocktails.

For my part, the moment is gone. The night I got home from my trip with my mother, she gave me a call. My Grams was gone. She’d died in her sleep peacefully taking all her stories with her. I am very grateful for all the time I got with her and for the stories she shared with me. I wouldn’t change a thing, but I will encourage everyone to share their stories sooner rather than later.

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