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Background Image Moment by Moment

The Flesh and the Bones

By Kim Stanley who presents the writing workship "Moment by Moment: Family History" in our Movement of Ideas Speakers Bureau.

All that’s left of the farming community of Brushy Mound is a lone brick chimney in the middle of a field. When I last saw it, the heavy East Texas July heat seemed to press down all sounds except the rhythmic song of the cicadas. The grass brushed against my knees as I walked out to the chimney: whose was it? None of the old folks I knew remembered for sure, but the question was always a rich source of argument.

If you wander in that field, you’ll trip over more evidence of the past: a horse shoe, a door knob, a barrel hoop, even (at the far end) someone’s front door steps, now leading dizzily toward the Texas sky. This is the place where my great-great-grandparents James Henry and Sally Ann Jenkins moved their remaining eight children in 1891, in order to get away from the Virginia custom of marrying cousins (one son – Henry – returned to Virginia to marry his cousin Fanny.)

That empty field is as much the history of my family as any list of names and dates, deaths and marriages. Facts are the skeleton of family history; stories are the flesh, the eyes and the spirit. Years ago a great-aunt of mine did the hard work of assembling the skeleton, and we all have a treasured copy of her work. But it’s a reference book, not something we read aloud together after Christmas dinner.

Facts are the skeleton of family history; stories are the flesh, the eyes and the spirit.

Your family stories (places, personalities, treasured objects) carry the essence of who you are and how you see your place in the world. For example, my great-grandmother Rosie wore two wedding rings, one on each hand, until the week she died. One was from her husband, our Papa, and the other was from a young man who had died in a buggy accident the day before she was supposed to marry him, at sixteen. On her death bed, she offered one ring to my mother, her favorite grandchild. Mama said, “I want the one Papa gave you.” Rosie took the ring off her right hand. “Don’t you ever tell him,” she said. For me, the story itself and the way that my mother remembered it and repeated it makes a powerful statement about the way our family lives in the world.

Now that I’m growing older, I turn these stories over in my hands like smooth warm stones. Every time, I learn something new from them. Your stories, too, are worth saving and telling. This workshop will help you to find and construct those stories, to share your sense of who your family is with whoever carries it on into the future.  

Join the Movement of Ideas

Bring Kim's writing workshop, “Moment by Moment: Family History” to your community. Contact Abigail Kaup, program officer, for more information: abigail@humanitieskansas.org.

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