The Gift of Story

“Of all the gifts people can give to one another, the most meaningful and long lasting are strong but simple love and the gift of story.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

People have asked what inspired me to write “Still Having Fun,” the story of my parents’ military marriage. The short answer is grief. After both of my parents died in May of 2007, I found solace in re-reading my mother’s 1947-48 letters from post WWII Okinawa.

The George family on Okinawa, 1948.Before she got Alzheimer’s, Mother had mentioned wanting to publish those 30+ letters. I decided I would take on her project and the little project grew. It expanded back to my parents’ courtship and my father’s Army Air Corps days. It crept forward in time as I delved into documents and records, navigator logs and travelogues, performance evaluations, weight charts, emails, tax returns and household expense ledgers. My parents, it turned out, led well-documented lives.

Much to my surprise, I ended up writing an entire book about their life adventures, “Still Having Fun, a Portrait of the Military Marriage of Rex and Bettie George, 1941-2007.” Since the book was published, I’ve become an evangelist for capturing family stories and documenting family life. What could be a better time to start than Thanksgiving?

In my mind, November is the most family focused month of the year. Starting with Veterans’ Day and the Day of Remembrance, November ends with families gathered around the bountiful board, expressing gratitude and sharing stories. This year is doubly meaningful because Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fall on the same date – a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, I’m told.

Don’t wait; don’t hesitate. Do it now – before it’s too late. Record your uncle’s memories about the Vietnam War. Ask your mother or grandmother to tell you about an early job or the origins of a favorite family recipe. Decide to make saving memories a family tradition.

Rex George receiving Distinguished Flying Crosss, UK 1944.If I hadn’t asked my father about his most memorable WWII experience as the navigator of a B-24 heavy bomber – the mission that earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross – I wouldn’t know about his crew’s harrowing return to the UK after their plane was disabled over Bremen, Germany: “We lost control of everything. The aileron cable was severed. The plane dropped about 6,000 feet. We couldn’t get air speed to catch up with the formation…”

If my father hadn’t asked his ancient aunts for their stories, scribbling his notes on a stained paper napkin, I wouldn’t know that his great, great grandfather built a school house with the wood and salvaged nails from a dismantled sunken Civil War gun boat, then hired and boarded a school teacher for the children near their Kentucky tobacco farm.

If my mother hadn’t written notes about her mother’s family, I wouldn’t know the significance of a hand-painted, 1790 Pennsylvania Dutch wedding certificate I found when I cleaned out my parents’ house after their deaths. 1790 marriage fraktur. Berks Cty, PAIf my mother hadn’t saved her mother’s yellowed newspaper clippings, I wouldn’t know that Grandma was a finalist in the first Pillsbury Bake-Off.

If Grandma hadn’t saved my mother’s letters written from a Quonset hut in war-scarred Okinawa, I would never have written a book about my parents’ marriage.

Everyone has a story to tell. Vow to create a new family ritual of telling and asking about family stories. Encourage your children to document their past year. What were the highlights? What did they learn? What are their hopes and dreams? If they are too young to write, they can dictate their autobiography to you. The very young might draw a picture and tell you about it. Record them doing so. Put everyone’s contribution in a binder.

Add entries at least once a year – or more – perhaps also on birthdays or other holidays. Give your family the gift that lasts. Give them the gift of story.

Photo Credits

All photos by Candace George Thompson – All Rights Reserved


Guest Author Bio

Candace George Thompson
Candace George Thompson tells her story in Puerto Vallarta, 2013 Candace George Thompson is the author of Gold Medal awarded “Still Having Fun, a Portrait of the Military Marriage of Rex and Bettie George, 1941-2007.” The book is a testament to the character and resilience of American military families, a history lesson and an entertaining romance.

Candace is the daughter of a 30-year career Air Force officer whose first mission as a B-24 navigator was on D-Day. She was born in Kentucky, as were both of her parents. Like most service families, hers moved frequently. By the time she started 10th grade, she had changed schools 13 times.

After college graduation with a BA in Spanish Literature, Candace served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela. Her rootless way of life continued upon her return – Vermont, San Francisco, Oregon, New Jersey. She and her husband have now lived in Chicago for over 30 years – eight times longer than any place before. She is happy to have finally found a home.

Her interests include reading, writing, sharing a good meal with friends, laughing, early morning walks, rock ‘n roll, feeding squirrels and collecting penguins. She likes all things Mexico and weird tidbits of information.

Candace’s stories have been published in several anthologies including those of the Puerto Vallarta Writers Group, the Off Campus Writers Workshop and the Military Writers Society of America.

Follow Candace: Facebook

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  1. avatar says

    Candace, a timely and joyful reminder of the need to get down our family’s stories, Unfortunately for me, my dad, the best story-teller in the family, had a stroke that rendered him speechless when he was just 70 and I was 34, and starting a new career. Younger people (though their 40s, I think) are so busy just trying to keep going with jobs, kids, all the demanding activities kids impose on parents’ time, they hardly have a moment to breathe. It’s up to our generation to get these stories as we know about the finality of loss. Luckily for me, my parents and grandparents were such avid letter writers and diarists and note-keepers, I can piece their lives together from what they wrote. Another reason to journal. Thanks for this great essay!

  2. avatarMarie Beswick-Arthur says

    Clarity, energy, and a wonderful reminder.
    From the well chosen Clarissa Pinkola Este quote, to the cited examples of the author’s own writing-gifts, suddenly ‘our (his)stories’ seem to fit into a how-to category, as in ‘How to preserve and sustain family love.’

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