We had the good fortune of meeting a gentleman last week whose family has very deep roots in our hamlet. While he himself moved away before graduating, part of his family remains and his memories of our lovely home stay vivid in his mind.
How do we know this? Well, we had the good fortune of doing an oral history with him and, yes, he had some lovely gems to impart. We aren’t quite sure that he realizes the value of his words and, in fact, he started the conversation with a common refrain. “I don’t really have anything important to say…”
To a man (… woman, other…), each person says words to this effect. “My memories are not a part and parcel of history.” “History happened long ago.” “Anything important is already in a book somewhere.” Right?
Wrong. Very wrong.
• Did you know that Wakeman Road was still a dirt road in the 1950s?
• Did you know that skinny dipping was not frowned upon as a group Boy Scout activity? (Merit badges for swimming.)
• Did you know that the area by Bay and Lynn was known as Madagascar?
• Or that the lunchroom at the school was in the cellar? (What do you mean, “Which school?”)
I’m sure there are some of you who say to themselves, “What is the point of this minutiae?” Or, since you haven’t unsubscribed from these weekly missives, perhaps not. Or perhaps you do not use words like “minutiae.”
But these are the tidbits that make “history” fun. These are the nuggets that flesh out a fact. It’s one thing to say that our Society is the steward of the Prosper King House and the Lyzon Hat Shop [which are both open this Friday and Saturday from 10 – 4] and yet it is a whole other thing to tell you that the Lyzon Hat Shop got its name because Walter King “saw it in the waves” while sailing to France.
Our point? Oral histories give us a bird’s eye view on life before we lived it. Listening to a young man’s memory of talking to Eva Gabor at his father’s gas station reminds us that sightings of the rich and famous are not new to our area. The Gabors were a familiar sight, since they resided in Southampton. (Please don’t tell us you have never heard of Eva, Magda or Zsa Zsa. Green Acres must have been on the TV at some point!)
We got a chuckle when we were told that it was legal to drive without a license as long as you stayed south of the . Okay, not legal exactly, but tolerated. And yes, our witness did know Mr. Sutter – although perhaps it wasn’t under circumstances he would wish to spread around. Boys will be boys!
Let’s cut to the chase. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone’s life matters.
Your children may not seem to care that you once got your car stuck on the front lawn and accidentally sprayed your good friend in the face with chicken manure from Schleichers. But chances are they will someday remember the story. We all have those stories. We all wish that, when we were told them by our then-living ancestors, that we would have written them down.
That is the message: You too can become a historian! Talk with your still-living ancestors, those witnesses to history, those narrators of a lost time. Pull out that pad and paper or video camera or even your phone. Ask questions. Ask more questions. Write them down! Um, and the answers too. Encourage your family members to tell their stories. Someday loved ones and even strangers will thank you.
Thanks for the Memories Mr. Smith!