History is what makes us who we are.

A couple of years ago, my husband, Mike, and his entire family, all five siblings and their spouses, came together over a family tragedy, the death of our thirty-year-old son. The night before his memorial service, we gathered together for dinner at my brother-in-laws’ home.

As families do, talk turned to childhood memories. Each one shared a favorite memory of their growing up years.

Sounds like a Hallmark moment, doesn’t it?

That isn’t Mike’s family. Each sib talked over the other, telling more and more outrageous stories. Good-natured insults were thrown, sarcasm dripped from the walls, and if some of the spouses hadn’t intervened, I’m afraid the three brothers would have exchanged blows. Ok, I’m exaggerating that last part.

The point is their shared memories helped them make sense of a childhood that was filled with abuse, neglect, and alcoholism. By the end of the evening, I was practically falling out of my chair laughing. It was exactly what I needed on the eve of what would be one of the hardest days of my life.

Before the written word, books weren’t available as they are today. Parchment paper was expensive to make, and few people knew how to read. People relied on the spoken word. Fathers recited the Torah to their children, who in turn recited it to their children, on and on down through the generations.

Stories give us commonality. My grandchildren love to hear me tell about all the shenanigans their mom and Uncle Bobby got into when they were kids. Even though they’ve heard every story, each time I visit, they ask, “Tell us a story, Mema.” I’ll tell them again about the time Heather and Bobby got locked into the trunk of Grandpa’s Volkswagen Rabbit. Or the time their mom had nightmares because she was so guilty over calling a neighbor boy a bad word. When she finally confessed to me what she’d done, I asked what the bad word was. “I called him a butt.” Have you ever had one of those parenting moments when you try not to laugh? It’s brutal. Your eleven-year-old confesses what to her is a monumental sin, and it’s all you can do is cover your mouth as you nod seriously.

Stories give us a sense of self. My grandmother had an amazing childhood, and not in a good way. She and my mom ran away from an abusive situation during the height of the Depression. I love to hear about their trek from Texas to Los Angeles. This story is part of what makes me who I am, a courageous woman who isn’t afraid to take risks.


What’s your story? What legacy are you leaving your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren? Maybe you didn’t have a great childhood. Maybe your family was so dysfunctional that you can’t bear to think about it, much less talk about it.

How about starting your story at the pivotal point of your life when God first became real to you? Have you ever written down your testimony? What a powerful thing to pass down to future generations.

What’s your story?

For more help, look at Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas and Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir by William Zinsser. Both are available on Amazon.