Holiday Tension Diffuser
When family members gather for a holiday celebration it's an ideal time to gather some of the more obscure and fascinating information about our elders that never appears on a family tree. Getting an oral history started is also a great way to cool down conversations that may be getting heated and to give a senior some positive attention that doesn't focus on health, disabilities and doctor visits.
If you are not a frequent visitor, encouraging your parents and older family members to reminisce is a good way to broaden your assessment of how they are doing. You will be able to observe their long and short term memory and their ability to use words that they may not use every day. If you have more than one older person in the room you may get a spirited discussion going about what things were like "back then" that will even be entertaining for the youngsters present.
The best way to start is to ask a simple question about something from the past that is as non-threatening as possible, yet related to the circumstances of your visit. If you can get your elder rolling, follow-up questions will flow naturally. Let the conversation go where it will for a little while. You can always pick up at another time with new starter questions.
As an example, here are a few conversation-starting questions you can use as a guide now. These are simply ideas to help you get started. If the conversation veers in another direction and everyone is having a good time, go with the flow.
Oral History Story-Starters
1. When you were little, what was your Christmas like?
2. Did your family buy a Christmas tree, or did you cut it yourselves? If you cut it yourselves, did your father ever let you handle the axe or the saw? How did you get it home?
3. Did you decorate the Christmas tree before the holiday, or on Christmas eve, or did Santa set up the tree after you were asleep?
4. Did you attend services on Christmas, or on Christmas Eve? If you did, what was it like?
5. Who usually came to visit for Christmas, or did you go to someone else's house for the holiday?
6. Did all the children sit at the table with the adults, or did children have their own table? How old did you have to be before you could join the adults?
7. What were the traditional foods that you could always count on your mother or grandmother making? What was your favorite? Was there always something that someone made every year that everyone hated but didn't have the heart to say anything?
8. What did you children do to amuse yourselves while the adults were sitting around having boring conversations?
9. What was the very best present you ever received when you were a child?
10. Did you make or buy presents for your immediate family?
11. Where was your favorite place to shop for presents? How old were you the first time you shopped alone?
12. Do you remember something extra special that you gave your mother one year? Your father?