Tag Archives: family traditions

The Family Storyteller: Before It’s Too Late

WE ARE EXPERIENCING A TEMPORARY cold front in the South, prompting memories of the magical snowy days of my youth in Indiana and West Virginia (although we are not expecting snow in Charlotte NC).

AS THE HOLIDAYS DRAW NEARER, my thoughts drift to family members who are no longer with us for gatherings of the clan as in past Thanksgivings and Christmases. When I was a young adult, I gave little thought to the temporal aspect of life, as if we would all be here together for years to come – holidays at grandmother’s house – then mother’s house – and then – the gathering was at my house. As we come together, we celebrate, eat and share family stories – usually funny or touching ones -and we laugh and bond as a family.

I WAS FORTUNATE that Mom was a born storyteller with an exceptional memory. She shared much of her growing up and my siblings and I learned about not only our family roots, but the townspeople and the issues of life in the generations before us. What a treasure!

NOW, AS AN OLDER ADULT, my interest in family history is piqued even more, likely because I am a little closer to the end of my journey (not for many years yet, I hope) – and maybe too because I value the importance of connecting the generations. There are lessons to be learned, even from unproductive decisions made by someone in the past. In Mom’s last years, I made a greater effort to ask questions and write notes on history she shared. Although – now that she is no longer here, there are so many things that I wish I had asked her.

AS THANKSGIVING APPROACHES, and we become engaged in the hustle and bustle of holiday activities, it may be prudent to take time-out to invite…. to question… and to listen to the older adults of our families, to learn where we came from, and our ancestors journeys along the way.

WHEN I TAUGHT A UNIVERSITY GRADUATE COURSE in life span development, I frequently gave an assignment for the students to complete over the holidays. They were asked to interview the oldest member of their family, or the oldest family storyteller (not all folks have the gift of remembrance). To prepare for this interview, they were to prepare a timeline. They wrote the years of the family member’s life and beside the years, wrote major events that were occurring (war, disease epidemics, new inventions, politics, etc)… Then they could begin at the earliest memories and ask how these events influenced the family (e.g., you were 14 when the polio epidemic was at its worst. What do you remember about it?).

THANKSGIVING AND CHRISTMAS are family holidays, and various things stimulate recall of holidays past. I remember with deep affection, family and close friends that are no longer here to share this holiday season with us. I am grateful we traveled together for a time. My life is richer for knowing them. As I reflected recently on the blessings of our family (and a few close friends), I wrote two poems to try to capture a few of my thoughts.

Someone Left the Window Open

Someone left the window open and they are slipping through,
One by one – and two by two.
Drum majors of a parade,
loving grandparents marched on
leaving us behind
to find a way to make our lives rewind.

Uncle Don, who drove me everywhere
looking for little pink pigs –
like ones in my storybook;

Betty Davis, a dear childhood friend,
named for a movie star,
who survived polio to be felled
by its re-awakening in later years;

Uncle William who lived a formal life
as a Presbyterian pastor,
till he retired in Asheville
and put away his suits for denims and blue grass;

Aunt Erm, Dietition for Cumberland College,
who oved the game Sorry and
made memories with her fruitcakes and jam cakes;

Aunt Verna, who loved books and learning,
and cared for her community in New Bern
as county public health physician;

Aunt Maggie, who liked brandy alexanders’s,
managed her own business in Charleston and
parachuted from a plane in her 80’s;

Aunt Shirley, who enjoyed taking care of her home
and sang country songs
while she washed the dishes;

Aunt Fanella, twin sister of my father,
who kept the family connected
and her faith strong;

Dottie, my 6 foot tall college roommate,
who had a big heart, a hearty laugh,
and was a wonderful nurse;

Sweet Alice, my university officemate,
loyal to her friends,
who found love in late life;

Mother-in-law Nora, loving mother and grandmother,
and beloved teacher
who taught first grade for 52 years.

Brother-in-law Don,
who went at life in a run,
and took good care of my sister;

Dad, a talented man
who loved big band music, dancing-
and all competitive games;

Mom, who loved her family
and her home in Madison –
lived to 91 – still interested
in politics and new experiences.

Someone left the window open,
and we keep slipping through.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

The Family Storyteller

Our family storyteller knows.
Stories – old and true:
hardships overcome,
milestones reached,
loves that endured,
passions unrequited,
adventures undertaken,
family secrets held,
laugh-out-loud episodes,
family builders, dreamers
and schemers known,
lessons learned,
worth of our land revealed,
challenges met,
history witnessed,
heritage passed on.
We thought
there was time.
To listen.
Too late.
Our legacy lost.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

AS WE GATHER FOR THE COMING HOLIDAYS, may we have the foresight to engage our own FAMILY STORYTELLERS to enlighten our lives.

The Holidays are Coming and It’s TIme to Get Organized

I’M IN! I have signed on to the challenge of NaBloPoMo month to write a post each day in November. I am starting a cookbook project this month, tentatively titled: 100 Years of Christmas Recipes and Traditions in the Marquis Family. I have recipes for five generations in my family, and will be sharing some in posts, along with the stories and traditions that have been passed down. I will, of course, be including some of my thoughts and ideas as well. These posts will necessarily be first drafts of course, to be edited later. As a new blogger, I appreciate your encouragement and comments in my journey and welcome your joining the conversation as the holidays approach, to share your traditions on the daily topics. I expect to learn much about my family, blogging and writing (and hopefully some of your traditions as well) during this engaging November exercise in creativity.

IN MY FAMILY, we don’t think about Christmas as just one day. We begin to plan for the winter holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas no later than November 1st – so our planning covers activities for the period from November 1st – January 1st. There is a lot of excitement in the air- and early November is the time to get organized! I don’t want to ever be so rigidly organized that I can’t live a spontaneous life. And there are days when I set aside all plans to participate in something unexpected or maybe just have a do-nothing day because that is what I want to do. The holidays with all the expectations and hoopla can be very stressful, leaving us to feel pushed and pulled in all directions.

BUT, HAVING SOME DEGREE OF ORGANIZATION, assures me that I will finish the goals I set out for myself. Pre-planning also lets me decide what I choose to do, and eliminate what I do not want to do – ahead of time.

THERE ARE TWO GUIDING PRINCIPLES that have served me well over the years as a busy working mom and professional woman.

1. I read a quote somewhere that I keep posted over my desk.(It used to reside on my refrigerator.) “I can accomplish more in one day than most people can in one week, because I am organized.” I have seen some of the lists my grandmother Marquis made. She was a mother of six and bookeeper for the family business. My mother made to-do lists – and my sister does too. Technology has greatly aided our ability to plan. I use apps to make lists and to keep a calendar. I do use a paper calendar for Christmas pre-planning.

2. Many years ago, when I had accepted my first administrative position, I read in one of the organizational guru’s books that successful executives had one thing in common: they decided at the end of a working day what they would tackle the next day of work. When they cam to work the next day, no time was lost in deciding what to do – she just started at the top of the list for the day. I have continued this practice for many years and look forward to quiet time at the end of the day to decide what I will do the next day.

SO, LET’S BEGIN our organizing for the Christmas season. In a very busy holiday season, things run so much more smoothly with investing time in pre-planning. Then we can enjoy the festivities with much less stress. The first thing to do is to organize my calendar.

I USE A LARGE CALENDAR, with space for writing notes in each cell, and enter the following information:

1.- SOCIAL EVENTS we will be attending (e.g., Nutcracker, Christmas symphony concert, plays) and social invitations we accept from family and friends, as they come in.

2.- ENTERTAINING we want to plan for at home during the holidays (e.g., tree trimming party, dinners, receptions)

3.- THE DATES SPECIFIC GUESTS will be visiting overnight (with names and number).

I USE AN APP ON MY iPHONE to make a list of each person that I will be buying a gift for this season. The phone is always with me, so I can add ideas as they occur to me, or check my list if I am out shopping, and I see the perfect gift. When I purchase it, I add the amount paid, so I can see what is complete and what is left to buy.

1.- I PLAN THE MENUS for each entertaining event, as well as for the days guests will be staying in our home during November and December. Thanksgiving and Christmas eves and days, I plan menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner and evening snacks – as well as the days we will have overnight guests. The menus are typed for each date. If I am preparing a special recipe, I add the cookbook and page number for easy reference. Having the menus posted in the kitchen lets guest know when meals will be on the table so they can plan their day, and you can easily assign willing guests to assist in preparing selected foods.

2.- I MAKE WEEKLY SHOPPING LISTS from the menus. It takes a couple of hours to plan all the menus and weekly shopping lists, but investing time early is SOOOO worth it. I no longer have to struggle about what to cook or what to buy at the grocery. The planning is done.

I PLAN SEVERAL BAKING DAYS to prepare foods I can make ahead and store in freezer for the holidays (e.g., variety of cookies, holiday breads like pumpkin breads, Christmas eve bread, basics for pumpkin soup A and other entrees that can be made ahead and frozen). If unexpected guests arrive, I always have something to pull out on short notice. I love baking days! I put on some Christmas music and cook and bake and sing to my heart’s content. This is a special time to be creative – maybe prepare some new and unusual foods, as well as old-time favorites the family will be looking forward to savoring once again.

WHEN THIS PRE-PLANNING IS COMPLETE, I am ready to enjoy the remainder of the holidays. The many free spaces on the calendar give me multiple choices for when I want to shop, put up the tree, decorate the house, write the Christmas cards, visit the frail family members, go caroling and so on. Based on the plans already on the calendar, it is easy to look over and decide when there is time, and desire, to add something that comes along that looks like fun. Trust me on this. Hanging in there to complete pre-planning is really worth it! Now we can enjoy the holidays.


Sue Marquis Bishop 2013