Without the burden of gift-giving, Thanksgiving provides a prime opportunity to focus on the lived experiences of our loved ones.
This could be as simple as chatting over gravy-soaked mashed potatoes and fluffy mounds of the delicacy that is Stove Top stuffing. Great stories can be shared while slathering more butter on a dinner roll than any human should consume in one sitting.
Family histories can be passed from generation to generation by just pulling up a chair and listening to what the patriarchs and matriarchs have to say and the stories they have to tell.
After all, storytelling is the basis of human communication. It’s through narratives that we develop our identities, make sense of complex concepts, and socially construct our realities to create communities filled with interpersonal ties that are the foundation of social capital.
Of course, sharing stories orally doesn’t ensure the information will continue to live on. Even if you receive a story, the onus is on you to pass it on and trust your audience will continue to share it as well.
Over time, stories get left out, and, eventually, they are forgotten. Think of how much history is unknown because societies relied on people to spread the word. For that matter, how much of your own family’s history is unknown because no one continued to pass stories from generation to generation?
However, these important historical artifacts don’t have to be lost. They can be preserved in a more permanent form. They can be submitted to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and become accessible for the rest of time.
The easiest way to accomplish this is to take part in “The Great Thanksgiving Listen” hosted by StoryCorps, which is a non-profit organization that aims “to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters.”
Specifically, “The Great Thanksgiving Listen” is a project that collects oral histories of anyone who is willing to be interviewed and recorded using the StoryCorps application for smartphones and tablets or StoryCorps Connect, which works with video conferencing software.
Once the recording is completed and all the other necessary steps of signing releases and taking pictures are completed, the interview gets saved to the StoryCorps Archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
This is an incredible opportunity to permanently save the stories of important people in our lives, such as family members, friends, mentors, or just people we admire.
Thanksgiving presents the perfect occasion to do this type of work because typically we are already around the people we would want to hear from, and StoryCorps provides interview questions and other helpful resources if you are worried about how to record a solid history.
Personally, I hope to start doing this on a regular basis. Thanksgiving might be my initial foray into the project, but I would like to do it throughout the year as well because I know I’ve already missed a few chances to conduct interviews since my grandparents died.
Their stories are lost forever, but other stories can still be saved. After all, if the last two years and a global pandemic have taught us anything, we aren’t guaranteed time with those closest to us.
We must take advantage of every moment and ensure future generations can understand the lives of those who came before them.
After all, everyone has a story to tell. Capture it so it doesn’t get lost and forgotten with the passage of time.
Todd Vogts is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.