Making History
by Kim Pearson
Primary Sources Press, Issaquah, WA. ISBN-13: 978-1-932279-75-7
$24.95

Much to my surprise, I am a primary historical source.

So are you.

In a conversational and engaging tone, author Kim Pearson will help you to see the value of your life story, to set it in the context of larger events, and have fun in the bargain.

The stories you tell don’t have to be big, or long, or feature important historical people. But setting them against events current at the time adds flavor and perspective.

Ms. Pearson provides scads of examples from classes that she has taught.

For instance, here’s a story of ham-and-bean soup:

“Alice” remembered watching her mother cook dinner the day FDR died. Her mother was weeping so heavily and steadily that her tears dropped into the ham-and-bean soup she was preparing. Although Alice tried to eat the soup at dinner, because wasting food was a great sin in her house, she was unable to. She called it “sad soup” and to this day she cannot eat ham-and-bean soup.

No political analysis, but who can forget that pot of ham-and-bean soup salted by grief-stricken tears?

Ms. Pearson provides timelines for context, exercises to warm you up, and guidelines to keep you going. (Don’t be polite. Trust yourself. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling.)

Here is one of her topics (page 158) that makes me want to sit down and write a paragraph or two:

13. If you were a non-combatant during the Vietnam War, what was your opinion of the war? Did your opinions change over time, and if so, when and why did they change? Did you watch war news on TV? What scenes impacted you? Did you disagree with others about the war? If so, were the disagreements major or minor? Did Vietnam cause divisiveness in your family?

One of the sharpest memories I have of the Vietnam War was of the “incursion” into Cambodia. I watched the televised announcement while babysitting when I was a high school student. I knew it was serious, and crossed a line besides the political boundary separating Cambodia from Vietnam. The shifty wording (“incursion” rather than “invasion”) fed an uneasiness towards President Nixon despite my grounded belief that the United States presidency should be respected and defended. That uneasiness bloomed into betrayal when Nixon resigned the presidency, and fed ambivalence towards politics generally that took decades to put into perspective.

Would this story help my own children gain perspective on current politics? Probably.

Another source of personal histories is science and technology, one of my own special interests. Ms. Pearson provides a timeline (page 161) beginning in 1960 that has so many personal tie-ins that I must laugh. For instance, when Neil Armstrong hopped to the lunar surface from the LEM’s ladder, I ran outside to look up. The moon looked the same, but I had changed.

Another context for stories is crime and punishment, with this example:

“Paul” remembered his first experience observing a courtroom when he was a pre-law student. His strongest impression was of the banality of crime and the pitiable nature of criminals. “It was astonishing how much grief was caused by that one poor, deluded excuse for a human being,” he commented.

I just finished a tour of jury duty for a serious felony. The defendant faced a long jail term if convicted. As it turned out, the defense was granted a continuance because of new evidence and the jury pool — after days of suspense and tedium — was dismissed. This incident is an example of care for the rights of the accused. The judge in the case went to unusual lengths and discomforted over a hundred potential jurors in order to ensure that a fair trial is held. As a member of the jury pool, I groaned along with everybody else each time we were told to come back. I drummed my fingers. I griped that the $15-a-day stipend didn’t cover the aggravation, nor did the 34¢-per-mile transportation allowance (one-way) cover costs. But I admire that judge.

A valuable witness to the American judicial system? Sure.

So don’t hide behind false humility. Each of us has stories to tell.

Ms. Pearson rounds out her book with sources, suggested reading, and recommended books on writing and creativity.

All good places to check, but start by ordering a copy of Making History. Use its many exercises and examples as a springboard to writing histories of your own.

[cehwiedel also writes at cehwiedel.com]

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