Stories only your parents can tell

One of the greatest regrets that many of us have when our parents are gone is the fact that we didn't ask them a whole lot more about their youth. Even now, with our two adult children, I often find myself saying "If only I'd asked Dad about this," or "Why didn't I get Mum to talk more about that?"

Not that we were a particularly noncommunicating family, but when I was young it just didn't occur to me to ask for information that my own children would now find fascinting. Since they hardly knew their grandparents, our kids often ask us questions that we can't answer.

I have the impression that my own parents were reticent about their youth because they thought it would have bored me. But it would not -- if only I had realized it at the time.

For example, my father fought in the Boer War and hism mother (who lived to be 100 years old) had met George Bernard Shaw at a tea party in Dublin when they were both teenagers. Her husband, Prof. Robert Tyrrell, had taught Latin and Greek to Oscar Wilde at Trinity College, Dublin. My mother still remembered her parents' horse and carriage (they never owned a car) and she nursed wounded serviceman in Malta during World War I.And so on. . . .

I know these bare facts, but if only I had taken the trouble to inquire more deeply and with greater interest in detail, then I might have enough material for a best seller and our kids would be much better informed about their ancestors.

With that in mind, my wife an I have tried to repair the situation for the future. I don't mean that every mealtime we babble on about the past -- youngsters nowadays would never listen. But when they do ask us about ourselves we try to rake up some accurate memories and go into the subject in depth. Doing this has often sparked off a lively discussion on the lines of "Why was it like that then and why isn't it that way now?" This kind of family powwow tends to break through the so-called "generation gap" and renews close communication.

After all, how can our young people really understand the reasons for what is going on in the world today unless they know what things were like werem like a generation ago? True, they can watch a good TV documentary or read about it in books, but neither can replace the intimacy of personal memories from their next of kin.

Actually, it was our own children who gave birth to the idea in this family. Curing their childhood, as soon as good-night prayers were over, the favorite request for a bedtime story was always: "Tell us about when you were little."

They both enjoyed these true tales much more than made-up ones or being read to from a book. Even now Robert and Marcia still like to hear about "the old days" and we all get a lot of fun and many laughs out of it.

So, parents, tell the kids about when you were young -- so long as you don't sermonize.

And, young people, do sometimes ask the oldies about the days when theym were young! It could be much more interesting than you think. Remember, they also faced many of the problems that are currently getting you understandably uptight , including a world war or two as well.

At the very least their memories will provide you with some true stories to tell yourm youngsters one day and they will tell theirs and so on. . . .

This is how the richness of folklore was built up and handed down from one generation to the next. If we lose that personal heritage now we shall be losing one of our greatest assets and playing traitor to our forebears.

Even the best TV documentary lacks the compelling interest of a parent's story that begins: "I remember Mother telling me about that awful day when Father forgot to. . . ."

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