Stories are our Legacy

Thirty years ago when I began hunting up my family genealogy I learned that the begats were not enough to interest my children  - you have to have the stories or the flesh will not go back on the bones. Often times, the stories you want are already buried and you can't get to them. The sad truth is that one death can close a library of important family stories.

I realized I had to switch my tactics and find and create stories to go with the names and dates I had collected or they would rot in a box.  I was determined to tell stories about their family to my children so I became a storyteller. 

My stories come from family history and peronal experience - you know - the kind of stories we used to tell around the dinner table. That's how I learned about my family and its history. Nothing in the history books - just the clues to who I was and where I came from. The clues to why things were the way they were in my family - not always happy, or t.v.- like. They are the real story of the mistakes and successes of the people I loved.  We shared stories of the characters in our family and the town where we lived and sometimes those stories were sad, sometimes angry but mostly funny. Funnier as you look back on them.  Most important, when someone died we talked about them and kept their stories alive.

 As I turned my memories into stories I realized what I truly missed about that old dinner table was the chance to hear and tell the stories of our yesterdays and our todays - 
so, these days, I tell them in the family when we gather - and whenever I get a chance and I tell them to strangers -- strangers who nod their heads and come to me later to tell me a story of their own that connects with mine. 
In the moment of that connection - we know each other - as though we have shared a meal. 
"your story is your legacy".  
I talked about it for TEDx recently.

It is important to tell your family about you and your life and how you got to be who you are. Because who you are is part of who the younger ones in your family are and will be.

When I hit rough spots I am glad I have pieced together the stories of the women in my family because they are all survivors. They survived heartache, financial troubles, loss of children and husbands - young and old.  One husband was shot in a senseless robbery and his wife went on to raise six children in a time where there were no pensions or workman's comp - just hard work. I knew this valiant woman, my great aunt, who always stood tall and never lost her faith as she faced into the wind.

And then there are the stories shared around the table, mixed with laughter and love and memories of those who have gone. As well as telling of how things were 10, 20. 30 or more years ago so that our children today understand us better when we lament the demise of the fountain pen or the silence of touch screens - - I for one miss the clatter of my typewriter keys.
What are you telling your family about?


A Winter Gift

"Baby it's cold outside."  That's all too true - and I am not eager to go out this morning but I have to. DRAT. Out the window I can see that I am not going anywhere until I get the new light coating of snow off my car. And another DRAT!

On  days like this I once thought "There is nothing finer than to be in Carolina" but from what I hear on the TV Carolina is suffering in the cold too.

The first time I ever lived in really serious cold was in 1957 when Jim and I were living in Brooklyn, New York.  There was a really fierce blizzardy snow that year. I was chilled to the bone in our third floor attic apartment where the windows leaked icy winds.

Jim was an intern at Kings County Hospital which was a 20 minute drive from our apartment. The snow started mid-day. It came down in heavy sheets with winds tossing it as it came. By that night the snow had piled up. Cars were not moving on the city streets. I could not bring our year old  son Jimmy and drive over to the hospital to pick Jim up.

Even though he had a room and a warm bed at the hospital Jim decided that he would "make it' home. Meaning he would walk some blacks and take several subways to our stop which was three blocks from the house. I was not happy about that then and now I realize how foolish it was for him to do it. But he was determined. He left the hospital about 8 pm.

Remember in 1957 only Dick Tracey had a cell phone. There was no way of checking in. So while he slogged through the snow and cold I waited - - often peering into dimly lit street below our third floor window for sight of him.

Finally, well-after midnight,  I saw a figure, bent against the wind, trudging up the street.
I heated coffee. He was a sad sight. It took quite a while for him to warm up after he changed out of wet clothes.
An intern's schedule those days was brutal - 48 hours on and 24 hours off. Jim had just bought us a day together.

He understood that the intern year was tough  - on him and in some ways even tougher on - a young wife dropped into a strange land and left to fend for herself - - with her toddler by her side.

By time for him to go back the roads were passable and I drove him to the hospital.

Over the years I have often thought of that cold walk - sometimes we would laugh about it - other times I would tear up thinking of Jim, a tired young doctor leaving the ward at the end of his grueling shift and walking home in the snow - a melo-dramatic picture, right out of O. Henry, that was real.

Today I look at that cold walk and understand it more clearly than I did then - it was a gift of love.

When our daughter, our second child heard this story, read she laughed, "Mom maybe thats when yal got me."
Who knows. Could be. Possibly. It was a cold night.

Treasures come in many forms. 


NEW VIDEO: The Calendar - the start of a new story

Recently I opened a collection of sentimental souvenirs from the early days of my marriage with Jim Schoettler. The memories came flooding back and I knew that meant stories ahead. And, I am working on those. 

Rather than waiting until the whole story has jelled I am telling vignettes of the longer story as a way of collecting more bits of memory and quilting them into a new fabric. Sort of like I work on my collages - bits and pieces worked into a whole. 

It is just the way I always work  - - my process, so to speak.

In this video a small calendar opens the door for a flood of memories to start working.

When I make an art piece I photograph the stages. For this story I am taping bits as I work out the final structure of the story - - and the tapes give me a record of the process and the progress of the story. 

Notes to myself as I build this story.

I am thinking of Luciano Penay, Chr. of my Masters (MFA) thesis committe at American University - whenever we met to discuss my paintings he would look - and then ask me - "these are the answers - what where the questions?" I am going to think about building this story in the same way. What am I reminded of?  When and where and who? And how will I shape the finished story.  How do you re-create those special moments when you were young? What really matters after all?

How do I work out a story and record my process? 

Part of my process is the work I do between this Blog, then taping parts of the story and most importantly telling it to a group when I can.  

HERE is a blog post I wrote when I began mulling over this stories in the calendar shortly after I opened the "memory" box and found it. 

THIS post comes studying some black and white pictures that were also in the box They helped me to step back in place and time - at the time we were there - living our story. 


Telling Your Story - Its Your Legacy

The Montgomery Gazette published the 2014 Seniors Edition today and I am very pleased to share an article, Personal Stories: For the Next Generation and Yourselves, with outstanding videographer and personal historian Ronda Barrett. 

 Ronda and I have talked about stories before and we are on the same wave length about the importance of personal stories as family legacy.

She and I will be talking about personal stories in a few weeks when she is a guest on my cable television program, Stories in Time: In Focus. The film will air in April and I will post when it is on line.
 The article is available

Since Gazette writer Scott Harris interviewed me by telephone I was very impressed that he "got" me and his quotes were exactly what I remember saying - - except, for one thing - and it is important enough to me that I want to clarify.

Yes, I am working on a memoir for my children - and anybody who wants to hear it - but it is an oral memoir. I do not  write the stories: I tell them - in short and longer programs. This "legacy" body-of-work is based on memory, experience, and family history.

This video - "The Door Story" -  is a favorite from my Childhood Series.

April 26 West Virginia storyteller Adam Booth and I will share an evening of stories in a House Concert in Chevy Chase, MD. We both have new works. My new story, part of the memoir stories, is "The Calendar: A Romance."

HERE For more information about my work.


Trip Re-routed.

Hello, all.

Had a big surprise over the week-end. Thought I was flying to San Francisco  early Friday morning to spend a week with my daughter's family, make a visit to Madera to see the Schoettler's and also have good visits with dear friends. Instead I was at Suburban Hospital being evaluated for a possible stroke.

Thanks to all who sent me good wishes while this was going on. I appreciated hearing from you. Writing now to tell you what happened -

Friday morning I woke up early. Bags were packed and ready to go. Just had to dress and pick up the last minute bits in time for the "pick-up". Instead, when I stood up from my bed my head was spinning and I could hardly walk across the room. I assured my self it would "clear-up" so took a very un-stable shower and gradually realized this was not going to clear up. And, I know enough about medicine - from my long-ago nurses training and living with Jim for 58 years - to know what this symptom might mean.

I called the "on-call" in my doctor's medical practice. When he called back he told me "you are not going anywhere but the hospital." Fortunately the limo to pick me up was already on the way. When I called my son I told him to meet me at the hospital. When the limo arrived we re-routed to Suburban Hospital. Everything was working out - except that Jim was not with us. I tell you that part was really hard. He is my first-choice doctor.

Fortunately for me or anyone arriving at 6:30 am with possible stroke symptoms Suburban Hospital, Bethesda, MD is now associated with NIH and Johns Hopkins Hospital and it is deemed their "stroke center." I was taken right in. Within 30 minutes I was checked over,  had IVs inserted in my arm,  and found myself in one of those very tight MRI tubes for a scan of my brain.  Let me tell you I hate all that stuff  -

Anyway -the brain scan was clear - no evidence of a stroke. But they questioned whether I had had a TIA - which is a warning sign that I could have a stroke - sometime. As a result they decided I should stay over-night in a "WATCHING" ward. In this ward they wire you up for the heart monitor and draw blood samples every six hours looking for any indication you have had a heart "blip".  AND - you are tucked in on the most ghastly bed I have ever tried to sleep in - ever.

My family came in shifts until 10 PM when I said, "please go home." And then, since all hospitals have Wi FI these days,  I watched Net Flix movies on my iPad until I went to sleep. Believe it or not I did sleep, even with noises in the halls and people coming in an out to take blood and check on me.

Yesterday, mid-day, I came home with Medicines  to take, "doctors orders," and things to think about. I will see a Neurologist for follow-up asap next week.

Now what? I wonder.

Well, for sure, some reevaluating of what I am doing. I heard Wayne Dyer say this morning that Carl Jung said " we are all doomed to making choices."

By that I mean - -  this scary thing was a wake-up call for me - a reality check. None of us have all the time in the world - at 77 a lot of my time has already been used.

How am I using my time these days? I had started this kind of thinking when I did the recent TEDxTalk - "Your Story is your Legacy". I have been asking myself, "Am I telling the story that means the most to me?"

Then I attended a storytelling workshop led by Donald Davis last week-end and voila - out came a story I want and need to tell - for myself and for my family. Its a long-time love story. Anybody can listen - if they want to - but it will be for my children.

My tough choices will come as I decide what I have to jettison from my list to give the new story the priority I mean for it to have. More will be revealed.


Video: Your Name is Your First Story

My TEDx story "Your Story is Your Legacy" ends with a brief version of another story,"Your Name is Your First Story." Here is a full version - with a couple of new stories added. Collecting and adding stories is fun and once you start doing it - I will bet you won't give it up.


A Snow Day in 1954 Opens A Door to the Past


A SNOW DAY in Baltimore, MD in 1954, 

This photo captures a moment in time 60 years ago. 

I am using this photo and a few others to help me step back in time to catch a story.

Traffic is stopped at the corner of Monument and North Broadway. A woman walks down the center island probably on her way to Hopkins Hospital from Hampton House, the nurses home, which faces the hospital.

The picture fits today in 2014 as we have snow on the ground.


 In less than a block the woman will enter the hospital grounds through this gate That small older building which is squatting at the side of the driveway is the Gate House Shop. In the 1950s there was no shop in the hospital This is where people stopped for cards, small gifts and other personal items. It is not there today. As happens,  it fell to progress.

My husband Jim Schoettler was a first year medical student when he took these pictures. He was standing on the balcony at the Phi Chi Fraternity House at 606 North Broadway. That old red brick three story house faced the hospital and stood next-door to the nurses' home. 

Jim lived in the fraternity house when he was a First year student.

As you can tell from this photo his room must have been on the top floor. The upper colder reaches were usually where the lower classmen ended up. When he talked about it to me I imagined a small "garrett" room.

It is very like Jim to have noted his shooting location on the back of the photos. I am so glad to see his familiar handwriting on them - its like being close, almost touching him.


These pictures were taken 7 months before I arrived in Baltimore from North Carolina to enter Nurses's Training at Hopkins. The old house was torn down before I got there. All I saw at 606 North Broadway was an empty lot. But I heard a lot about it. Jim told stories of the guys who lived there and the comforts and discomforts of the house.  

When Jim and I met, he had just returned from a summer visit to his home in California. There was a new Phi Chi House located at the corner of Monument and North Washington Street. It was much smaller - a store front building with an apartment and a few bedrooms upstairs. He and two classmates, both fraternity brothers,  had relocated to an apartment over a corner store-front on North Broadway - a block from the front gate of the hospital. 

I think we still have the range finder camera he was shooting with in those days - but I doubt there is any film available for it. Did you notice the familiar pinked edges of the photos of those days - and the lovely black and white - -

I hope I can find someone who recognizes the cars -

 These photos were among the box of Jim's papers that I found recently. I don't remember ever seeing them before - but I am grateful to have them now.

I look at this picture and it brings back memories of  another snowy day after I was settled in the Nurses' Home in 1955 when the world looked just like this. Photographs, especially those old black and white ones, can bring back a scene, a feeling, a moment in time in a very real and vivid remembering. The time and place come back to life - at least for me and my imagination. 

Photos feed my imagination and make me want to think and seaeerch for more. 

Catch the images and memories  Tell the story.

This is a start - 

Do you do that? 


Passports Open Windows to Memories


Today when I was searching my file cabinet for a 94 year old letter that is important to a new story I am working on - I bumped into a surprise.

The folder label said "Travel". Even though I knew it would not relate to the main search I was curious. I pulled the "Travel" file folder out of the drawer and am I glad that I did.

Five cancelled US Passports. After I checked their dates and stamps  I opened a red plastic travel wallet which was also in the folder. I was startled to find a stash of British Pound notes safely tucked in it - where they had obviously been waiting for at least twenty years. Found money. Since my last Passport recently expired - I will use this small fortunate find to pay for the renewal.

In the meantime - I am studying the dates on the Passports and the stamped pages for our travel stories.

When I looked at my black and white photo I remembered the day - August 27, 1975 - that Jim and I went to the walk-in Passport Office on K Street to apply for and pick up our new Passports. All done in three hours.

This was just a week before we were flying to London for our first over-seas adventure. I have to think about it a bit to do the story justice when I tell it.

Jim and I were excited. But we were also nervous over leaving three teen-agers on their own at home for two weeks.

We, like many couples at the time, who were traveling separate from their kids, arranged for separate flights. I flew over on British Air, leaving about 4 hours ahead of Jim. Our B and B was relatively close to Victoria Station so I found my way there and settled into a small intimate room - unpacked and went to sleep. Startled by a noise at the door of our room I woke to see Jim standing in the door-way.  The adventure had begun.

I feel lists coming on as I re-ignite the memories of those two weeks in the UK. And find the pictures.

Those two weeks together with Jim were wonderful and that was also the start of quite a trip for me. Jim went home at the end of the two weeks and I boarded a train for Paris at Victoria station. In Paris I met a good friend and she and I traveled together - for four weeks .
Using a eurail passes we hopped trains from Paris to Florence to Rome to Vienna to Germany. She dropped off the trip at her home in Germany and I went on to Amsterdam for a few days then flew home from there.  I was just winding up my MFA studies at American University and I had made the trip to see all the artworks I had been studying for seven years. It was more than I expected with other side-adventures thrown in. I am looking forward to riding memories and reliving it.

Happy to say there are three other Passports in that file. Stories galore.

A great way to start the New Year - - re-living travels that began in 1975.