My paternal grandfather, Clyde Bowden Beaty, was a Texas cattleman who rode his land on horseback with a snake gun in a saddle scabbard. Pop was 67 when I was born, so by the time I was old enough to really talk to him, he was elderly. A colorful character by all accounts, I’d give anything to sit down with him and hear more about his experiences. I know that he was forced to sell his cattle and raise sheep during the Great Depression—the photo at left was taken during that period—but he must have had a treasure trove of other stories he could have shared.
I suspect most of us can identify a family member whose stories we regret not hearing or preserving in some form. And while genealogy research can help us fill in the blanks after the fact, nothing can replace hearing someone’s personal story in their own voice. Four years ago Nick Baum, a former Google software engineer, decided he didn’t want to lose his parents’ memories and experiences. In Baum’s case, the situation was complicated by the fact that he lives in San Francisco, while his parents live in Sweden. Instead of waiting for their visits together, Baum started sending regular emails asking his parents questions about their pasts. The idea caught on among family and friends, and in 2013 he and his wife Krista launched StoryWorth to make it as easy as possible for people to record and collect their memories.
I received StoryWorth as a Christmas gift from my son and daughter-in-law. The app works like this: each week I receive a question to respond to in as much or as little detail as I choose. Thus far I’ve written about my favorite toy as a child, life in the Sixties, and my first big trip. Photos can also be included in the stories, and selecting pictures has been an enjoyable exercise as well. If the question I receive doesn’t resonate with me, I can choose another from a lengthy list. Family members can receive the stories electronically as I write them, and at the end of the year a hardcover book, with photos, is created from my stories.
The StoryWorth prompts cover lots of territory—personal, historical, funny, serious—and I love the fact that someone gives me a starting point. The favorite toy question resulted in a lighthearted trip down memory lane about playing dress up and performing brain surgery on my Barbie doll. By contrast, the Sixties were turbulent years in my family and in the nation, and writing about that period wasn’t easy for me. And yet, when the piece was finished, I realized how much of who I am and what I believe was formed during those years. Remembering and reflecting on everything that happened during that one decade proved to be as meaningful for me as I hope it will be for my children and grandchildren.
We are our stories. I can’t think of a better legacy to leave behind than the memories of our experiences and life events in our own words.