Read an Excerpt
The voices that come from the hearts of families can be wondrous.
When we wrote To Our Children's Children, our intention was a simple one. The book was a collection of over one thousand questions, meant to be small, precise and evocative, offering readers a way to tell family stories through the pleasurable act of remembering.
The idea behind the book was that recording a personal history can be as easy as writing a letter. With the questions in the book providing a starting point, we wanted families to sit down and tell the stories of their own lives--to pass down those stories to generations to come. Hundreds of thousands of families have done just that--have used the book to pass along family treasures made of words.
At the end of the book, we asked an additional question:
If you had to write a note--one note--and leave it propped against the sugar bowl on your kitchen table for future generations to read, what would you say in that note?
Families took the time to answer that question, and put those answers in the mail to us. Notes arrived on engraved stationery, on lined notebook paper, on cards decorated with flowers and pictures of kittens. Some were typed, some were handwritten, some were sent by sons or granddaughters or in-laws.
Some were written in classes held at senior centers or continuing education facilities.
Some were written in bed.
Some at the kitchen table.
These notes came from all over the country and straight from the senders' hearts; from men and women to children they love and to grandchildren not yet born. These were echoes consciouslypreserved, meant to sound anew in the future. They were messages from a world of hope, of kept promises and back screen doors.
People of all generations took the time to record the importance of kindness and hard work, of spiritual belief and respect for nature, of honesty and integrity and lifelong learning. They praised risk-taking and acknowledged adversity and imperfection. They spoke of a need for tolerance and forgiveness, both for oneself and for others. They quoted their own parents and grandparents; they quoted George Washington Carver and William Blake.
They gave of themselves, to their children and to their children's children--and to all of us. They provided abundant evidence of the enduring strength of family love, both for those lucky enough to have it, and for those aspiring to build such a foundation themselves.
This book is the result of their notes on the kitchen table. The words of the men and women who wrote notes are here, as are brief stories about many of their lives--amplification of the events that have shaped them and their families. We received far too many notes for us to publish all of them in this volume; in addition to the notes we were able to include, we have tried to summarize some of the spirit behind the notes. The messages both said and unsaid.
They are, we have found and truly believe, the values that families live by and wish to pass along.
If you should be the one to read,
This note upon the table,
Come in, sit down, rest awhile,
Slowly sip a cup of coffee or tea,
Or perhaps you prefer a Pepsi,
Relax, think happy thoughts, and smile,
As you ponder here awhile,
Think of your blessings,
Counting them one by one,
And, when you are rested, refreshed and able,
Give yourself a hug from me,
Then as you leave, please close the door,
Knowing it was for you especially,
I left this note upon the table.
Signed with love, from me.
Bernice Whitlock, Atalissa, Iowa
Bernice Whitlock is a farmer's daughter, born in Iowa. She was widowed at age sixty-nine after fifty years of marriage. She remarried seven years after that. She wrote this poem on the day before her seventy-fourth birthday. She has three children and six grandchildren.
To our family's future generations:
This is a letter to my future, from your past. If I could know you, impart some things to you, these would be my thoughts:
I'd want you to know that you were loved, you future generations, even before you were born.
That you were considered in the way our family lives its lives now, in the choices we make and in our attempts to preserve a family history and to keep our extended family strongly connected. We've traced our genealogy to the year 1760 in Syria. How lucky you are to have this recorded history to explore! I hope you will do so with the same sense of discovery and awe that I have felt. Even as I write this, I am picturing how full and beautifully varied our family tree will be as you add your name.
Some say that the world is in decline and that there will be nothing left of the environment or civilized society in the future. For some reason, I've never felt that at all. It's true that much is wrong with the world, but in everything there is hope. Three months ago I had a nearly fatal car accident; today my front yard is an explosion of daffodils and a new baby was born into our family two weeks ago. I'm not afraid for you. God is obviously at work.
Victoria Louise Tamoush
Victoria Tamoush is forty-one and has four nieces and nephews.
"I didn't know if I was going to live," she says. "I started thinking about all these meetings I couldn't attend, all these committees. And I thought about someday quitting them completely, either because I was too tired to go anymore, or by dying. And I thought I would stop someday and none of it would have mattered. I thought what would matter is saying something to future generations. I thought one day one of them would pick up a photograph and say, "Here's our relation, Aunt Vicky,' and wonder what I was like. I used to wonder that all the time about pictures of my own family. Generations ago, my relatives were nonliterate. They couldn't have left a note for me."