The inspiration for this column came from a local newspaper article I read about a "girl" with whom I went to high school for two years at St. Cecilia's Academy in Washington, D.C.
This woman, whom I haven't seen since then, has always kept a low profile over the years, even though she is married to a very prominent man. I have never seen photos of her in magazines, so it was good to see a photo of her along with the article I read.
She was in Maryland to moderate a panel discussion, "A Legacy of Change: Excellence Unleashed," presented by the National Visionary Leadership Project.
This woman, Dr. Camille Cosby, is the co-founder of the National Visionary Leadership Project, a nonprofit that works "to create tomorrow's leaders by recording, preserving and distributing through various media, the wisdom of extraordinary African American elders."
Camille is also a producer, educator, philanthropist and wife of actor and comedian Bill Cosby.
What came to my mind, after reading about Camille and the goal of her nonprofit, is the importance for older adults to video record or write down the stories of their lives for their families and for posterity. Another must-do is to write the names of people, dates and locations on the backs of photographs.
How often do you hear, "I didn't know my mother or father, grandmother or grandfather did … or was …" I can't tell you how many times I have seen old family photos at antique shows or shops and felt sad that they weren't kept in the family and that no one knows who the people are in these photos.
I cherish my Aunt Lena's photo albums and the scrapbook that was presented to her on the occasion of her retirement in 1954 from the Government Printing Office, in Washington, D.C. The contents were retirement greeting cards and cutouts from cards with written congratulatory retirement wishes from her coworkers.
The last page, a paper diploma with a gold seal with red, white and blue ribbon, reads, "Your Diploma — This makes you a full fledged Bindery Girl!"
Her photographs have some years written on the front — 1917, 1919 and 1920 — but there are many people in the photographs whom I don't recognize. I believe they are my grandmother's relatives but unfortunately there aren't any relatives left who can answer my questions.
The photos even show the early days of the bathing suit. Aunt Lena Paduda (1897-1988) had a full career and was fortunate to have a full retirement life that was longer than the number of years she had worked. She died at age 90.
If you aren't part of a group, such as the ones described below, make sure that you write your story in a journal or get one of the "My Life Story" books or journals and start writing. Some of these writing tools even have questions for you to answer, helping you to get started and focus on your life story.
At a 'Rosie the Riveter' presentation for Women's History Month (March), one of the daughters of a "Rosie" said that she had not heard her mother talk about her experience as a riveter in World War II until about 15 years ago. Now with the American Rosie the Riveter Association, the stories of Rosies across the county have been written and recorded. There are now four books of stories detailing each participating Rosie's work experience during World War II.
During my career at the National Security Agency, as the chair of a women's council for the group I worked in, I headed a Women's History Project, which involved capturing the history of women in cryptology through the years.
The most interesting parts were the TV interviews when the women told their stories. We also worked with graphics to produce an exhibit, which combined video and photographs of these important women in cryptology.
All the work on this project didn't go unnoticed. The exhibit became a permanent part of the National Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade. The museum has other oral histories, including some from Vietnam.
StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is "to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives." StoryCorps has collected and archived interviews since 2003.
Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. It is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions listen to its weekly broadcasts on NPR's "Morning Edition" and on the Listen pages on their website, www.storycorps.org.
For a lengthy entry on "oral history," go to Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oral_history.
StoryCorps is one of the external sites to see.
The Veterans History Project is an initiative of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. A participant may be a veteran, an interviewer, or a person donating a veteran's collection. Their website, www.loc.gov/vets/kit.html, gives you the steps to take to do the interview/oral history. The oral histories range from World War I to the war in Iraq to the current war in Afghanistan and are for all branches of the service and for civilians.
I encourage each of you to take the time to write or videotape your own history or "herstory." Leave this valuable treasure to your family. After you are gone, don't have your grandson or granddaughter say, "I didn't know that grandma (or grandpa) served in World War II (or Korea, or Vietnam)."
And, don't forget the photographs.