January-February 2018 – My grandfather Delwin Long (center in the montage above) served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. He ended up in the Pacific Theater where he saw combat in the Mariana Islands.
We can only imagine what he saw and heard there. When he came home, he hung up his uniform and never spoke of those times. I never knew him as a soldier, a veteran, and a war hero. Until his funeral, the relics of his days of service did not come out of hiding. Then we saw the EGA emblems of the U.S. Marine Corps that he had worn, and the triangular-folded flag presented to his surviving children – and reality came home. Grandpa had things to tell that we never knew of, and never would know now. His story was over, and a whole era, one he shared with so many of his peers, would soon be past.
Grandpa’s story is not the only one to fall victim to silence. Paul Bass, blogger at pbass.net, told AFA Journal that he only recently began to catch up on stories from his own family legacy.
“My dad lost both of his brothers overseas in World War II,” Bass shared. “My dad seldom talked about the war, and neither did my grandparents. They lost two of their family members, two out of three boys, and it was just too tragic. But I started searching out stories about that, to preserve the legacies of my uncles whom I never met.
“I had the opportunity to go to Europe, and now I can picture a concentration camp, liberated by allied forces, and all the impact of the Allies’ victory over National Socialism. That is what my uncle did. Those are the real stories, the treasure of our family – and I don’t want to waste it. That’s how you learn from the past and incorporate it into your present and your future and become a better person.”
In a different scenario, Brian Wells, author and TV and film producer, also pointed to family stories that have shaped him from his childhood onward.
“My parents moved back to the U.S. from the mission field in Nigeria, and my dad was pastoring a small church, when he felt prompted to reach out to young countercultural kids,” Wells told AFAJ. “He lost some traditional church members in the process and it put us in a very challenging financial position. But my parents did what they felt was the right thing, and God provided through it all. Hearing these stories makes me see challenges I had been blissfully unaware of as a child and also the theme of God’s faithfulness in providing for us all along the way. Our grandparents and parents faced challenges on their lap around the track, but we’re further on our journey because of their run.”
Bass and Wells are doing more than reminiscing or wondering about family stories of the past. They are doing the hard work of uncovering and storing away those memories for future generations.
Wells recently grabbed a video camera and recorder to take on a 1,500-mile drive, moving his 80-year-old parents from Arizona to Illinois.
“Those four days driving were a good time to capture family stories and memories from their past,” he explained. “I surveyed family and friends for questions to prompt stories, made a list of about 30 questions, and recorded interviews along the way.”
But what set Bass digging deeper into his family legacy was losing his own father.
“My father passed away in April 2017, and thinking back in my mind over what we have left of him made me wish that when I was a child sitting with my grandparents, I had asked more questions,” Bass said. “Because now, looking at pictures and things, and with pieces of the stories my grandmother told me, I realize there was a very different story for them than just what I knew of.”
Fortunately, Bass found many tools to help explore his family history, using genealogy records to research his family tree, historical records to fill in the gaps, and old photos and family heirlooms to bring it all to life.
“It was Dr. Carol Reynolds who brought me to an epiphany of sorts,” he said. “She and her husband founded professorcarol.com to preserve culture through learning art of various time periods. I realized that art (including photographs) is how we reconstruct the past. That got me to thinking, What will my dependents carry forth, from me as well as my predecessors?”
“Sometimes in the middle of the day-to-day of life,” Wells added, “we can lose sight of the larger story of how God has worked to provide and guide us to the opportunities we enjoy today. The overall arc of life is a good one, and family stories help keep that in mind.”
“We’re now passing on stories using family photos to spur memories not only from my parents’ lives but also from our college-age children’s memories to spur their own stories,” Wells continued. “Future road trips and family gatherings will be the ideal time to pass on these pieces of family history.”
Bass also prioritizes spending time and exploring memories with family members who are still living, and encouraging his children to do what he did not have the foresight to do as a child.
“I remember listening to my grandmother, but at the age of 8 or 10 I didn’t know the questions I ought to ask as I do now,” he explained. “I make efforts now to have my children sit down with my mother, their grandmother, and I guide them to ask the right questions so they can hear her tell about her childhood and her family from her own mouth. Then they carry that forward.”
Most important, both men focus on the character that is instilled by the family legacy they are working to preserve and pass on.
“As opposed to building stuff, we are building memories – not only taking on adventures, but sharing as many details as we can, being open about ministries and testimonies,” Bass said. “I want to see that, as a family, we will always listen to the voice of God and be open about it.”
Wells emphasized, “I’ve found that with my own kids, what is most impactful is when I open up and share with them that even when I’ve made mistakes, I’ve learned from them and found grace and healing. That can be the most powerful connecting point in passing on a true legacy of character.”
How to keep the past alive and relevant
▶ Use ancestry.com or other services to research family and genealogy.
▶ Examine photos, documents, public records, and newspaper clippings to find more personal details about your family.
▶ Preserve family memories by pointing out to children the significance of family items you will one day pass on to them.
▶ Create a legacy of character with the help of resources such as Building a Family Legacy DVDs (available at afastore.net or 877-927-4917) and Your Legacy, by Dr. James Dobson.