Story Lines

This is my first post at – some thoughts related to my new venture, helping families create life story videos.

Life story, personal history, video biography, personal video memoir – no matter what you call it, at its core it’s made up of something we all have in common, the power of story in our lives.  No one made that more clear to me than my good friend, Jane Sapp. I met Jane through our work with the Bert and Mary Meyer Foundation based in Atlanta. (more about this under “My Story” and Jane is also on the Portfolio page.) Among so very many wonderful achievements, this highly accomplished singer/musician/educator released a CD entitled “We’ve All Got Stories.”  (Now you know where I borrowed, with Jane’s blessing, the title for my new enterprise.) Her own story is very inspiring, as captured in an hour-long documentary, Someone Sang for Me. She has spent her life reinforcing the important role of culture in people’s lives and she understands how especially important it is for people to document their stories. As Jane likes to say, usually with lots of gusto, “YOU MATTER, YOUR VOICE MATTERS!”

We are indeed surrounded by stories and I doubt if a day goes by without each of us telling a few and listening to a few.  A little demonstration of that happened to me recently at Grass Island in my hometown of Guilford, Connecticut.

I needed a picture for my website bio page, so I suggested to my son that we take it near a familiar Guilford landmark. We thought Grass Island and its red shack, located where the East River meets Guilford Harbor, would work well. It’s probably the most drawn and photographed spot in Guilford. Not exactly Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty – but it’s our Guilford icon. While there we encountered an elderly gentleman, from Madison, who asked if we knew the story behind the red shack. I confessed that I did not but relished the irony of hearing a story from a “golden ager” at a place where I went to gather a photo for a website about hearing stories from, primarily, “golden agers.” So he told us all about the house belonging to the Monroe family and how it used to sit further out along the shore and survived the ’38 hurricane, and so forth. It was fun to listen to him. But also, from just that short interaction, I felt a bond with this gentleman. I imagined the bond his family would enjoy if he had some of his own life stories recorded.

When I got home, I was even more curious about Grass Island, so I consulted one of the best sources of information about Guilford, Connecticut history, A Treasury of Guilford Places by Joel Eliot Helander, published in 2008. I found out lots more about the Monroe cottage and other interesting facts about Grass Island. For example, its first owner was Colonel Samuel Hill, in 1773, followed by three generations of descendants, and if you’ve ever wondered where the expression “where in the Sam Hill…” came from, there is good evidence it came from him. Check out Joel’s book to learn more about Sam Hill and so many other fascinating stories about Guilford’s past. Another good reason to visit the Guilford Free Library.

While Joel’s focus is on Guilford places and the stories behind them, Gordy Whiteman does a beautiful job of using poetry to tell stories about many colorful Guilford personalities and events from the Depression to the present in his newly-published Home-Town-Guilford. Nan Meneely writes of it, “…we are transported into Whiteman’s word portrait of Guilford through the poet’s singularly clear, sweet evocation of the town’s character and characters and the people and places he has loved best; and we are the beneficiaries of Whiteman’s gift for marrying story with poetry.” I highly recommend this fascinating collection not just for the poetry but also for the beautiful photography and artwork. An example is the photo of Grass Island above taken by Gordy’s granddaughter Brittany.

Joel Helander and Gordy Whiteman are shining examples of people who, by sharing their talents, allow us to appreciate the stories of a town they love, stories we may not have otherwise known about. I believe every person has the potential to do that within his or her own family. It’s time to unlock those memories. Let We All Have Stories help guide you through that process which will result in a very special video biography – a memoir to be cherished for years to come.

Even though we are well along into 2012, one more recommendation I have to offer is the New York Times Magazine’s “The Lives They Lived, an annual end-of-the-year review of notables who have passed away during the year. Unique this year, however, is a special section devoted to ordinary people, representing hundreds of submissions of loved ones by readers. As the Times put it, it remains “beautiful evidence that every life is a story worth remembering.”

We here at We All Have Stories couldn’t agree more!

Cheers, Chris