Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Recording Life

How do you record your life?  Do you write in a journal daily?  Do you use software to record your history in regular sit-down sessions?  If so, do you print it out so it isn’t lost when your hard drive fails?

How are you recording the histories of your ancestors?  If so, you probably use a series of writing sessions that are inspired because of a story you remember or research find that you encounter.

Today, reading of a news story in Australia reminded me of a story about my father.  I’ve enjoyed it ever since one of his employees told me about it during a lunch hour years after his death.  We laughed as the story unfolded and others around us joined in the story telling session.   It seems that all of them had ‘Elwood Drew’ stories. 

A half an hour lunch soon extended to an hour and a half.  We only broke up when an interruption from my administrative assistant reminded me of a meeting.   I wish the reminder had not occurred and the session had continued.  I’ve always wondered how many other great stories I missed because of it.  Drew Elwood tree crew 1960

When dad was the foreman of the tree trimming crew for the power company, he received a call just before quitting time while filling out paperwork at his desk in the foreman’s room.  The normally noisy room became quiet as his side of the conversation was overheard.  

“I’m sorry ma’am, but I knocked on the door and got permission.”  “No, it is in short lengths or has been run through the chipper.”  “He said he owned the home.”  “We only wanted to trim it.  He insisted that we remove it.”  “You can’t transplant a fifty foot tree.  I don’t know where you’d even find one.”

By now, the door to the office was crowded with workers listening to the conversation.   Chuckles and barely contained laughter started to emanate from them.  It took a minute for Dad to recognize where the commotion was coming from.  He then realized that the caller may hear the guffaw's and motioning for them to ‘shut up’ only brought on more laughter.

After hanging up, he told the story.  It seems that the thirty-year-old  ‘homeowner’ was actually the son of the lady who owned the home.  She arrived home from work to see that the large cottonwood tree in front of her home was missing.  After a double take, she went into her home and asked her son what had happened.   He said that the power company guys had cut it down.

Her parting comment to my father was, “He was just released from the insane asylum yesterday!!”  Dad couldn’t resist saying, “I’m sorry, but he made more sense than our conversation has so far.”  

The workers were hanging on each other howling with laughter by now.  They had been there.  They’d heard the conversation with the son.  None of them thought that he was nuts either.  He even helped them lift the large pieces into the dump truck.  A trash tree had been removed and within a week a new hardwood tree was planted on the homeowners property farther away from the power lines.    

A few years earlier dad and some of other electrical workers were on their way home from a two week project in eastern Utah.  Deer season had started the weekend before and they wanted to get home so they wouldn’t miss the second weekend of the season.

Drew Elwood 1964 Price UtahOn the high 'Strawberry’ plateau of the Uintah National Forrest, a white tailed doe and her fawn ran onto the road immediately in front of a large oil company truck.  The doe was struck and killed instantly.  The oil company truck never slowed. 

Dad had his equipment operator stop their electrical line truck and walked over to confirm that the doe was dead and not suffering.   It was, so he cut its throat to bleed it out and then immediately cut the throat of the tiny fawn.  There was no use wasting the meat of the doe and the fawn would have died within a day or two with its mother dead.

None of the crew had their deer hunting licenses with them, so Dad put the doe behind the seat and the fawn under the seat for the trip home.

Farther down the road, a deer checking station blocked the highway.  The guys on the crew were petrified.  They could go to jail or get big fines for having the deer in their vehicle.  The law would rather see the meat rot than used to feed families in these situations.

Dad told them not to worry.  “Just let me do the talking”.   

“Hello officer.  Yes, we are on our way back from Vernal.  How has the season been going so far?   Yes, we saw a few up around the ‘Berry’.”  The officer then asked, “I don’t suppose you guys have any deer in the truck do you?”   Dad immediately answered, “Sure!  We have a doe behind the seat and a fawn under it.”   Breaking out in laughter the officer waved them on.  

The truck bucked a few times as the operator tried to get his shakes under control so he could let the clutch out smoothly.  The other three crew members were white and their mouths were so dry they couldn’t speak for a few minutes.   Only dad was chuckling.  

Stories of his innate ability to avoid trouble in situations like this were legendary at work.  All were new to me.  I should have been recording the session rather than just laughing along with everyone else.  I knew dad was a character, but the dozens of stories fleshed out a facet of his life that was totally unknown to me.

How much of your lives are you recording?  Are you recording just the names, dates and places or are you telling the stories that are the real you?  Are you writing down the absurdities that you encounter or create in the fabric of your daily existence? 

Color.  It’s all about Color.  Yes, you need a frame to hang the story on for reference providing the point and space in time, but the story is the fabric that wraps the frame and makes it take form creating a mental picture that isn’t easily forgotten.  

Be sure to include lots of Color on the frames that you are creating in your own family history records and histories.  Their texture and ‘flavor’ will make your writings as enticing as the smell of Mom’s Sunday dinners.

I use Personal Historian software to write my own history.  It might work for you too.  Whatever you use or do, just be sure to do it regularly.  Keep a back up copy on a second hard drive and off-site.   Print your story with some regularity so a hard copy is available for both archiving and to use to markup while editing your stories. 

As the day ends, if you haven’t already … remember to write some of your story while it still is today.



my Heritage Happens said...

What great stories! I can't tell you how much I enjoy your blog! Always great! Thanks!

TK said...

Aw, what a shame that story-telling session was interrupted! The stories were great, Lee, and how cool that you have work photos to go with them!

Anonymous said...

I think kids are hungry for stories of the old days - as the video says. Particularly now when the financial world has disappointed so many. I wouldn't confine the telling to writing though - video and audio story telling have their place too!