Saving Your Family History

Graciously asked by womensmemoirs to write about saving my family history for a blog tour designed to promote the publication of my book,
Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe, I thought I would have a heart attack.

At first glance, I couldn’t think of any family stories worth saving. After writing this piece, I learned that I had several family stories worth saving. I was very moved by this assignment and I learned that beneath the bunker, amidst the mine fields, they are always family stories worth saving.

                     Saving Your Family History with Storytelling By Dawn Novotny

Many of us have family legacies and childhood memories that we’d rather forget. You know, wipe the slate clean and start from now–not look back, much less save and pass on. I did not know my biological father or his family. He never acknowledged me. My adoptive father was an abusive drunk. My mother and grandmother lived bleak lives with much suffering. These are not stories that I care to pass on to my grandchildren. I am sure there are many people who feel this way about their childhood memories but even those of us with the bleakest of lives have at least one memory to cherish, one that should be savored, saved and passed on to future generations. The following is my best pass-on story.

The year was 1952; I was seven years old. I could feel my mother tingling with excitement as we entered the five & dime department store. My mother had painstakingly put aside scarce household change in anticipation of this day. She was buying a Mother of God statue for her spiritually devout mother.

My grandmother wept with joy at the sight of her beloved Mary statue. It was a rare day of celebration with each of us allotted an extra bowl of potato soup and a glass of powdered milk.

Years later, after my grandmother died my mother kept the altar in her bedroom in the exact manner as her mother had done. The statues, the Lady of Fatima night light, the holy water, the rosary beads, all remained in the same order as grandmother had placed them on her altar. Some thirty three years after my grandmother’s death, my mother died.

Enter Rose, my mother’s neighbor, a crusty, stubborn, mouth-like-a-sailor, no-nonsense kind of gal. She wore flashy clothes and bright red lipstick. Rose was in her late eighties. After mother’s funeral, Rose asked if she could “borrow” the Mary statue for her newly acquired altar. Seems that Rose had a falling out with her local church and she wanted to perform her own nightly service. She asked me if I could obtain holy water for her. I was happy to assist in her hallow endeavor obtaining “holy water” from our local Episcopal priest.

Seven years later when Rose passed away, I requested that the Mary statue be returned, which her family graciously tendered. To my surprise and delight, the statue was covered in bright red lipstick where Rose must have kissed it as she completed her informal sacrament, made possible in Rose’s mind, by the blessing of the holywater.

Sixty years have passed since that enchanting shopping day at the five and dime store with my mother. This special event celebrated with an extra bowl of watery potato soup and a glass of powdered milk. The atmosphere held the feel of Christmas. I cannot help but think of that day as sacramental, an example of sharing “our daily bread”; my mother’s excited anticipation of her mother’s joy, my grandmother’s tears of elation, my jubilation at participating in their happiness, my mother’s subsequent comfort gleaned from the inheritance of her mother’s sacred objects and Rose’s peace and reverence garnered from a statue that she perceived as holy. Lastly the many years of grace and sweetness bestowed upon me as I reflect on my good fortune to stand upon the shoulders of these privately devoted, albeit somewhat eccentric, women. Through their daily rituals, these women were gifted with the presence, anticipation and joy of living their lives sacramentally.

I now have my own altar complete with Rose’s holy water. The Mary statue herself has long ago faded from her original beautiful colors and she is now discolored, chipped, glued in several places and just plain old. But I believe in miracles, prayers and holy energies. Can you imagine the bountiful collection of God’s graces, the myriad of unending fruits, the sorrows, the gratitude’s, the comforts, and the peace held within the ancestry of this old statue.

One day when I pass on perhaps she will end up in a heap in some obscure place, but the comfort that her presence has bestowed on the young and old can never be diminished. This story makes me proud. It is a piece of family history worth saving and sharing through storytelling.

Memoir Writing Prompt Post #149 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler


Do you have just one special story from your childhood?

Is it a story that has grown or evolved over the year, making it even more important?

If so, take the time right now to stop and write it down. Then find at least one person to share it with.


Photo: Bigstock Photos


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  1. Judith Churchman says:

    I love it. Great true story.

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