This blog post began with cinnamon toast. This week, at home on a cool autumn night, I fixed myself a snack of cinnamon toast. I haven’t had it in years, but this particular night I craved it. When I bit into it, a flood of memories and associations long stored away rushed back to me. When I was a child, each time I was home sick from school, my mom would never fail to fix me hot tea with milk and cinnamon toast. She ‘d take care of me all day, pamper me, and typically buy me new a new colouring book or book of paper dolls to help me pass the afternoon at home. That ‘sick day’ ritual was familiar and comforting, and although I’ve never expressed this to my mom, those days at home are a nice memory from my childhood.
But this is not a post about cinnamon toast. What this post is about is cherished memories, small rituals and our own personal histories that should be shared with those around us. We all have these small experiences with people close to us, or larger moments filled with intense happiness, comfort, fear or sadness, moments that make indelible impressions upon us. Together, the big and small are compiled and they form our personal stories.
This notion that everyone’s stories are important is shared by Storycorps. For those of you not yet familiar with Storycorps, I strongly encourage you to check it out. Storycorps is a non-profit that is committed to the preservation of stories of all Americans. Since 2003, the organization has been recording, archiving and sharing the stories of over 60,000 participants. As the Storycorps website notes, “The heart of Storycorps is the conversations between two people who are important to each other: a son asking his mother about her childhood, an immigrant telling his friend about coming to America, or a couple reminiscing on their 50th wedding anniversary.” The stories are shared online through the Storycorps website and podcasts, and through animated vignettes, which are especially poignant, and have admittedly caused me to weep openly on more than one occasion. All of the stories collected in the project are preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. This is a vast and impressive oral history project devoted to telling the story of all Americans. Storycorps has several permanent locations as well as a mobile unit that travels throughout the country. For those in Canada, I would say that Storycorps offers not only a fine example of what is possible with oral history, but also provides inspiration for everyone to record their own interviews with the important people in our lives; there is perhaps no better time for this than the approaching holiday season which provides many of us with the opportunity to go home and reconnect with our families.
I myself will be returning to Canada this holiday season, and I plan to bring along a voice recorder, small camera and my technically capable boyfriend. Armed with these, my intention is to record talks with my parents. I want to talk to my mom about raising my siblings and I, the songs she sang to us and the rituals we had. I want to ask my dad about growing up in Italy and leaving it when he was 20 years old. These are questions that I’ve long wondered about, but for some reason never asked. In my mind this is not a one time project, but something that I plan to add a little to each time that I can. For those who may not know where to begin, Storycorps also provides a do it yourself guide that gives tips on compiling oral histories, including information on technology, possible questions, and perhaps most importantly, tips on listening.