Pictures as Story Prompts



Leave a videotaped legacy



The memories feature of Facebook is one of the reasons I like the platform. I enjoy seeing pictures from one year to more than a decade ago and reminiscing about the people and events depicted in the images. It’s fun to look back.

Two recent Facebook memories made me smile. I chuckled when I watched video clips of grandsons 2 and 4 when they spent Spring Break last year on the farm. They ran around the yard pretending to be super heroes, rode the horses and  drove the “big” tractor with Grandy’s help. The second memory was when my son graduated from the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. I smiled remembering how I had swelled with pride that day. As happy and as proud as I was then for my son, I felt sadness, too. His dad had died and wasn’t with us to celebrate our son’s incredible accomplishment. I know that weighed heavy on my son’s heart. His dad was his hero ─ the reason he had chosen a career in medicine.

Old pictures evoke memories ─ sometimes strong memories, happy and sad. I like to play “Remember when?” A picture of my grandparents’ home in Maryland sparks, “Remember when we used to play school on the steps?” “Remember when Granddaddy used to make shadow puppets on the walls in the living room near the fireplace?” “Remember when thunderstorms brewed and Grandmother would make us stop whatever we were doing, sit on the living room floor and say the rosary until the storm passed?”

Photographs are windows to our past, to our life stories. Photographs also are windows to our future, to our legacies.

Each photograph is more than what the eye sees on a glossy piece of square paper. Each photograph becomes a story to share with our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren. Photographs transport us to our childhood, our teen years, our early adult years. Memories flood our thoughts and remind us of hard times, fun times, and how much our parents and grandparents loved us. They help us smell the perfume our mother wore or the yeast bread baking that only happened when someone died.

Years ago, I conducted workshops for elderly people who wanted to write their autobiographies, but didn’t know where to begin. When they registered for the workshops, each attendee agreed to rummage through their boxes of dusty photographs and choose 10 that depicted special events or people from when they were younger. Each participant also brought a trusted helper. Volunteer participants shared the behind-the-scenes run-down of the moments in time for one of their images. The next task required the trusted helper to act as a scribe ─ to physically write the stories for each of the images as dictated by the workshop attendee. The job of the workshop attendee was to remember, not to feel encumbered with the mechanics of writing.

Using pictures as writing prompts for stories is more effective if a trusted helper listens attentively, asks probing questions, and encourages the writer to dive more deeply and remember the details and the emotions surrounding each picture. This exercise repeated for 10 pictures is the genesis of a writer’s autobiography and a legacy for generations to come.

Today’s technology makes recording one’s life story much easier than when I conducted the workshops. Now you can set up a smart phone, tablet or camera and record audio or video. Autobiographies can be left in digital formats or transcribed into the printed word. Companies such as Shutterfly print beautifully bound hardcover and softcover books that would be treasured for years to come.

Booksellers offer a plethora of fill-in-the blank books to help the creative juices flow. Titles such as I Want You to Know Me . . . Love, Grandma and Grandpa, Grandmother Remembers Holidays: Album of Memories and Photos for My Grandchild, and Grandmother Remembers: A Written Heirloom for My Grandchild, would be excellent gifts for grandparents and great grandparents to begin recording their legacies. The titles would be excellent companions to the life stories formed from the picture prompts and left in digital format.

Whatever form you choose to record your life story or those of your parents or grandparents, please don’t delay. We never are guaranteed tomorrow.  



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