Friday, May 08, 2015

Silas House: Families need to pass along family histories, stories from one generation to the next

Americans are in danger of losing touch with their family histories, author, novelist, educator and lifelong Appalachian resident Silas House opines for The New York Times. "This is the main thing we lose when we don’t talk to our elders: the histories. How many teenagers, for example, know the intimate details of the Kardashians’ lives but don’t know the love stories of their own parents? The joys and sorrows of the older generations serve as examples for us to learn from, to emulate or perhaps even more useful, to avoid. As age segregation becomes more ingrained in our culture, what cycles will be repeated, what misconceptions will flourish?"

Silas House
"Many of us move away from our hometowns and extended family," House writes. "As I got older, I moved, too. We also take less part in the activities that once brought different generations together: things like church, community-focused entertainment and communal work. In my hometown, entire families used to attend an annual sorghum cook-off. We pulled foam off the bubbling syrup, sat around an outdoor fire and exchanged stories. First the teenagers stopped coming, then the middle-aged folks. For a while the older generation soldiered on, but that particular tradition stopped a few years ago now."

"The generational divide is nothing new, of course, and it may only continue to grow," House writes. "According to the most recent census, the elderly population will more than double between now and 2050. Before then we’ll have to decide if it’s better to ignore a huge chunk of our population or if we will embrace everything we can give to one another. Members of the older generation can help; they are certainly not innocent in this. They, too, congregate with those their own age. My generation should be bridging the gap between the young and the elderly."

In referring to his Aunt Sis, House writes, "My daughters, both teenagers, spent a lot of time with Sis in her very old age. She may have been on oxygen and in a wheelchair, but the stories she shared taught them how to be as strong, defiant and determined as she had always been. Sis taught them that people of all ages have value and revealed to them that multigenerational mixing can lead to true laughter, knowledge and mutual respect . . . Now she is gone, and a universe of stories has gone with her. Fortunately, I had been taught to listen, to be present, and so those stories go on in me and in my daughters, handed down from one generation to another."

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