Today is my 34th birthday! As such, for my birthday post this year I want to share my priceless experience with my grandparents that spanned two years and countless hours on the phone.
My grandparents and I wrote two books together! Well I’m counting them as a book anyway.
I first got the idea of having my grandparents filling out a memory book from my husband’s grandma who completed her own, years ago now. Shortly after my Grandpa Fether’s passing, I bought copies for my three remaining grandparents. My Grandma Fether took to filling out her own, but my wonderful Grandma and Grandpa Lockwood were quite stubborn. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and stubbornness apparently runs in my family as I then interviewed them over a period of two years to complete this heart warming project.
It should be no surprise that before I started this project I looked into the many memory book options available online. I ended up picking the same book that Luke’s grandma had filled out that you can find on Amazon here. My Grandma Fether ended up completing a different book that you can find here, with the difference being this second option offered more flexibility with the prompting questions.
For the first few months I left the books at my grandparents’ house, encouraging this to be a family project. Whoever was visiting my grandparents should ask just one question from the two books and we would slowly fill them in over time. In the end, I was the only one asking the questions so I took the project back. Over the next couple of months I worked through a few pages of the books each time I would visit. I would ask the questions prompted by the book and take notes in separate notebook. Once I was back home I would then neatly transcribe my shorthand, messy notes into the official books. That way the final product would be much neater than the frantic notes I would scribble as my grandparents relayed their stores. Interviewing in person, my grandparents would slowly warm up to the questions but the process felt forced and awkward. It also made visiting them feel like a chore instead of just catching up.
Realizing the project would never be completed in the current state of progress I took the books home and proceeded to call my grandparents once a week or so over the next two years. The whole process seemed much more natural than interviewing them in person. Plus it made visiting them in person more special by alleviated the pressure of continuing the project. As when in person, I would take rough notes in shorthand while on the phone with them. For every hour of interviewing, I would then spend an hour or two transcribing the notes into something more legible, that is if you can read my left-handed scribbles.
Initially, I focused on my Grandma Lockwood’s book and in her own words she has the gift of gab. I loved learning more about her life, especially her childhood. The books are very much cookie cutter format so not every question is relevant. For example, since my grandparents didn’t go to college there was an entire section that was not applicable. We ended up filling those sections with hobbies or collections that inspire my grandparents. For my Grandma we added her popular recipes. The recipe above is of my Grandma’s strawberry pie, which is my absolute personal favorite. I just loved getting to know my grandma better!
My Grandpa has a massive collection of antique Oliver tractors. Last fall we went around to all of his tractors so he could tell me the story of where and who he bought them from, as well as what he used them for and the maintenance he did on them. He lit up telling me all about his tractors, especially his favorite ones. The tractor above is the one he’s owned the longest.
There were also random questions interspersed that were not relevant. In those specific cases either I would use the space to expand upon other random stories that came up during our conversations or I would keep those areas blank and use them to add photos in later. There was never enough space for photos.
After getting about half way through my Grandma’s book, it was time to start making progress on my Grandpa’s. He was quite reluctant at the start but he warmed up quickly. His memory for details and dates still astound me. He is one of twelve children, with his two older brothers fighting in World War II. My Grandpa has been a quiet man my whole life. I will always treasure this time we shared while writing this book as I got to see him animatedly recounting his wild youth. During our conversations the value of hard work was permeated in seemingly every story he told me from both working on a farm and in a factory throughout much of his life.
My feisty, hilarious Grandma was an absolute blast to interview. I can’t tell you how many times I laughed during our conversations. Really in both of the books I think you can hear their distinct voices shine through. My Grandma’s favorite saying is, “It’s just another day.” The occasion could be a birthday, anniversary, or random Wednesday she will respond with her patented saying. I didn’t know anything about her family. Through this process, I learned so much about my Grandma’s background, specifically that her parents came from West Virginia. Her stories mirrored those in the book Hillbilly Elegy that I highly recommend. Overall, throughout her interviews so many of her answers centered around her pride and joy in being a mother and a grandmother. I’m so very lucky to have her as my sassy Grandma Lockwood.
In the last stage of the project I borrowed all of my Mom’s old photo albums and made copies of approximately 100 photos that I interspersed throughout the two books. I paid a local company to scan the photos to a digital format so I could share them with my family, as well as then use an online platform to make physical copies.
I was blessed by growing up within a few miles of all four of my grandparents. I’m so thankful for how close my family still is with my grandparents never missing a sporting event, band concert, or dance recital. This project has created so many new memories and will be one that I treasure always. I plan on filling out my own memory book in the future.
If you decide to tackle your own comparable project I would recommend keeping realistic time expectations. This is not a job that can be done in days and will likely take years to complete. Secondly, my husband often overheard my interviews and would comment that I was sticking too strictly to the questions proffered by the book, instead of letting the conversation organically develop. This instinct wasn’t natural to me, but did evolve as the project progressed. It was something I had to work at, but it was absolutely worth it as the later interviews made the book feel less structured.
Regardless if your grandparent fills out the book themselves or you take the initiative to interview them I highly recommend the experience. All three books are incredibly special and holds a prominent spot on my bookshelf. Not to mention the countless new memories I’ve made getting to know my grandparents better!