Generational Differences, by Maureen Taylor

generations.jpgThe other day my daughter finished reading Under the Blood Red Sun, by Graham Salisbury (Laurel Leaf, $6.50) about kids living on the island of Oahu around the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She liked the book enough to chat about it on a long car ride to see her grandparents. I thought this was the perfect time to bring up family history.

It was one of those moments when history, family and family history collide. You know what I mean. My dad, who is eighty-five, and my daughter, who is thirteen, don’t have a lot of things in common. He doesn’t use the Internet, watch Disney movies, or keep up with teenage fashion. He is, however, a walking, talking history book.  Dad was in his early twenties when the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor and quickly joined the war effort. He was eventually stationed in Hawaii. When I mentioned this to my daughter she just turned and stared for a moment. “Really,” she said. Suddenly all their differences didn’t matter. They had something in common.

A few days ago I read an article in the New York Times about a man, Arnold Blume, who still works as a substitute teacher even though he’s in his eighties. It was a great piece about the historical value of the older generation. Rather than sit with a textbook or a published non-fiction book, he teaches from the heart telling the kids about what life was like when he was their age. He mesmerizes eighth graders with his stories. It’s a lesson for all of us.

Each of us has a story to share. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. Think about the key events that influenced your life. (Get ready, I’m going to give you hints about my age.) My family moved to the suburbs in the early 1960s just like millions of other folks. I remember watching John F. Kennedy’s funeral on television and can recall the Challenger disaster. I also remember what you could buy for a nickel. Of course, I don’t bore my children with my reminiscences, but I do insert little details when the time is right. Family history is about more than life dates; it’s also about the stories of our lives.

When was the last time you sat with a child and tried to pass on a little of your past? Those youngsters have their own tales to tell, so for every fact you mention ask them something about their lives. Here are a couple of ideas.

  • Start a multi-generational book club by reading the same titles your grandchildren or children enjoy. It gives you a starting place to begin sharing family history. 
  • Teach your children or grandchildren a card game from your youth and then ask them to teach you one they know. 
  • Share a family recipe. Let the little ones help in the kitchen and create a piece of the past.

It didn’t take long to bridge the generation gap once my dad and daughter started talking. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.

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Maureen Taylor is the “Photo Detective.” She writes about family history and photography on her blog at www.photodetective.com.

4 thoughts on “Generational Differences, by Maureen Taylor

  1. Your article on generational differences really struck home with me.As a retired teacher,I had often noticed how kids connected with older folks when they found a common interest.In my own case,my love of history and becoming a history teacher was a result of a conversation with my great grandmother. She was 91, and I was 9 and studying about Pres. Lincoln in school.Discovering that she was born in 1857,made me ask if she remembered Lincoln,and of course she did. The ensuing conversation between us was an epiphany and great motivator for me.

  2. I forgot to mention, noting your JFK story, that my wife, brother and sister-in-law, and I were so upset by his assasination that we drove to Washington, and stood across from St. Matthew’s Cathedral.We saw all the dignitaries process in and recess out, after. The most poignant to me was seeing little John-John salute,and Caroline, Mrs. Kennedy and other family members.. My students were always so interested to have a first hand account.One thing that always has impressed me was how quiet, respectful and emotionally touched this large crowd was

  3. I was inspired by the article on generational sharing. Surely we all have out stories to tell eachother, whatever our ages. So often the older generation seems to consider it a right of passage into retirement, to retire from any connection with younger folks.

    The recommendation that we reach out to eachother can only make us all better. The oldies will again become a vital part of the world, Those younger folks will have the choice to accept or reject, but they will absorb out sharing, and be the better for it.

    I regularly sing to patients in nursing homes, and I am the better for it. They are too.

  4. When my granddaughter, age 7, says “tell me a story,” she means she wants to hear stories about things I did as a child or what my children, her uncles, did. Her requests are so constant that at times I run out of memories to share. Your article reminded me that I need to also share information about my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents as well, so that she starts to gain a feeling for her family heritage. I am fortunate that at this time in her life she is interested and intend to take advantage of the opportunity to help her feel connected to her past.

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