CANDY ALLAN: Family is about sharing stories

How many family stories do you have? I don’t necessarily mean epic tales of crossing the Atlantic on the Mayflower, though those are undoubtedly awesome, if you have them.

What I mean are the memories your family shares, of good times or bad. The stories that tend to come out during family reunions, wedding receptions and funeral luncheons, when the extended family gets together.

We take our kids camping during the summers, because it’s one of the cheapest ways we can get away. Around the campfire at night, they request stories.

“Tell the one about grandpa and the bear!”

“No, tell the one about the horse in the house!”

I grew up listening to similar types of stories — how my grandmother learned to iron men’s dress shirts when she was working her way through high school as a housekeeper for a salesman and his family. How my grandfather took my father and all his brothers and sisters on a trek through the woods near Hartwick Pines to see the remnants of the lumber camp where my grandfather worked as a young teen.

These are the kinds of stories that make a family.

When I was in upper elementary or junior high, we had a class assignment to interview an older member of our family and write a paper. I talked to my grandmother, who was far more excited about the assignment than I was.

For weeks afterward, she would stop by the house with a piece of notebook paper or two on which she’d written down another memory for my paper — her first ride in a car, or what it was like to grow up during World War I. I never had the heart to tell her I’d written the paper the day I talked to her and the assignment was over.

I simply took the pages, thanked her for them and read them so I could talk to her about the stories later. Carelessly, I didn’t keep track of them and they’ve since been lost or destroyed.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I had those pages now. Many people I’ve talked to wish they’d bothered to stop and remember their family’s stories, but now it’s too late because Aunt Mildred is gone, or Great-Grandfather Joe has succumbed to Alzheimer’s and can’t tell them anymore.

Please, for your children, for your grandchildren — write down your memories before they’re gone. There’s always a feeling of “Oh, I’ll get to that sometime.” Too often, “sometime” doesn’t arrive.

It doesn’t have to be an epic novel … it could just be a few loose-leaf sheets of paper in a binder. It doesn’t have to be incredibly organized; just jot things down as you think of them, with a quick note about the time and place this memory involves.

You don’t have to be a polished author and live up to the tales of Melville or Hemingway. Your family won’t care about grammar and spelling — they’ll care about the story.

Now, you might think I’ve got a handle on this writing-stuff-down business because it’s what I do, but you’d be wrong. None of my family’s stories are in writing, either.

I’ll mend my ways if you will. Whaddaya say?