I grew up knowing that older people deserve respect and attention. I understood (in a way that many people apparently do not) that older people were not, in fact, always old. Indeed, they were once young. And middle-aged. And they had many stories to tell.
My mother's parents, who were of German descent, came to America through Ellis Island in 1921. They were ill, and were kept at Ellis Island for several months.
Through my father's bloodline, I am a thirteenth generation American. His ancestors include a Dutch woman who arrived in America via shipwreck, a female Lenni-Lenape Indian born circa 1700, and a band of brothers who fought against the British during the Revolutionary War. These were some tough people. From what I've been able to learn they, too, were poor although their quality of life was probably quite good. In the early part of the 1900s, they started leaving the farm life. My grandfather went to Cornell, Class of 1922, and eventually became a very successful businessman who served on FDR's National War Labor Board.
Stories surround us everywhere we look. As a child, I recall playing in a converted ice house near my paternal grandparents' cottage in Lake George, N.Y. I spent many a rainy day in that old ice house. It seemed magical to me.
One of the challenges of my childhood - which in retrospect turned out to be a blessing - was that we moved several times. My mother was a homemaker and my father, an electrical engineer and marketing executive, a profession which involved relocating every five or six years. The experience of living in Columbia, South Carolina from age 6 to 12 during the 1960s was pivotal for me.
These are the qualities, experiences and values that I bring to the table each time I interview someone and later, when I sit at my writing desk, hoping to capture his or her story for posterity.
I suppose it's no coincidence that when I tried my hand at fiction, my mind would turn to the past for inspiration. In fact, the narrator in my first novel is an older woman - 80 year old Dora Witherspoon - who is ready to share a story from her youth.
Whether I am writing fiction or nonfiction, these are the stories I feel compelled to write. How else can we learn if not by sharing stories from the past? Reading, writing, and storytelling are acts of love. Stories may be light-hearted or profound, tragic or funny, sweet or cruel, depressing or inspiring, but at best what they really must do is to resonate. Stories are small gifts that transcend time and place, opening hearts and minds along the way.
Copyright 2017 by Amy Hill Hearth.