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Living History: Sharing Our Stories

Just back from a fantastic storytelling weekend in Kentucky.

The featured tellers seemed to center on family stories about living in Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Coal mining was the occupation most men had, and the tellers shared stories of the hardships associated with those jobs.

The thing that most fascinated me was the personal relationships these tellers had with their grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and even great-grandparents. They told of mine disasters, of things that knit these people together with other families in the counties of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. They spoke of educational opportunities or lack thereof. They talked of tobacco crops and state fairs and cold winter days.

I was reminded of what David Engleman calls the three deaths: first, when the body ceases to function; second, when the body is consigned to the grave; and third, when your name is spoken for the last time. As we closed the weekend, we paid tribute to a dear friend  who had been a teacher and gifted storyteller in eastern Kentucky for many years. She was also involved in organizing this particular festival. I was pleased to share Eagleman’s thoughts as we prepared to launch colorful helium-filled balloons in her memory.

These storytellers and many in the audience are keeping the memories of their childhood alive through stories of the several generations of their families from which they come and the state where these stories take place. It was emotional for me, even though I grew up in the far northern reaches of the Appalachian mountains. The people there were subject to the same hardships and they banded together to support one another in the similar ways.

Although it’s said of the millennials that they don’t care about all that family history, we should do our best to preserve it for them, for there’ll come a time when they wonder what happened within their families and find  there’s no one left to ask.

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