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Just One Thing To Do This Week: Tell Your Story

on November 23, 2017 - 10:11am

By MARY BETH MAASSEN
Los Alamos

The story goes that in the early spring of 1929 a dark-eyed infant was left on the doorstep of a humble home in rural Arkansas.

The owner of the home managed food and other provisions for the nearby prison and he was one of very few in the area who had a steady job and regular income. The baby girl became the youngest in a family of six girls and one boy. She would be adored and loved by her new brother and sisters. Rumors and speculation regarding her origins would occasionally surface, but even as an adult, she would never speak of it.

This is my mother’s story. She passed away 14 years ago, but it seems much longer because the last eight years of her life were lost to Alzheimer’s. Her brother and sisters are gone too. There is no one to tell us where she came from, or why she was left on that doorstep. We have a few clues and some tantalizing tales, but all of it seems impossible to verify.

So if my mother did not want to talk about it, why am I so driven to find out the details of her story? Well, there are a few reasons:

I believe each human being is an accumulation of personal life experiences as well as the experiences of their ancestors. I believe much more is passed through our relations than a crooked nose, curly hair, or a talent for music. I find this quite intriguing and an important responsibility.

A research study from Emory University documents that children who know their family history are better adjusted and more resilient when facing challenges. The research reveals the more children know about their ancestors, the higher their self-esteem, and they are better able to deal with stress.

It is important to know your family health history. Some illnesses and pre-indicators for diseases are found in family history. My younger sister was insisting I needed to be screened for colon cancer more frequently because of our family history. “What family history?” I asked. “Mom’s dad (who died of colon cancer at age 54) adopted her. She wasn’t a blood relative.” “Darn it!” said my sister. “I wish I had remembered that four colonoscopies ago!”

As we gather for Thanksgiving and the familial winter holidays it will give many of us an opportunity to chat with family members who just might have a story or two to tell. If you are an elder, I encourage you to tell your story. Maybe even write it down. If you are a younger, ask your elders about their childhood and stories told by their parents and grandparents. You may leave or learn something about your family that will encourage or inspire.

I believe family history and the retelling of stories offer a sense of identity through time, and help us understand who we are in the world. Stories weave individuals together into families. Stories clarify, enlighten, and deepen understanding. Stories connect us, no matter our origin.


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