May 13, 2013 10:10:14 AM
I have had the good fortune to live in two cities with rich histories. New Orleans and Columbus have many fascinating tales to tell. Both love the stories of their pasts and keep them alive with written and oral retellings.
Some tales are familiar. We all know that almost every home and building in Columbus served as a hospital after the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War. New Orleanians have heard stories about hurricanes, yellow fever epidemics, and river boats paddling down the Mississippi. Characters like Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil, as well as the amazing Madam Pontalba, and Pirate Jean Lafitte, are as real to us as if we actually knew them. These are the famous ones. They live forever in our memories and our books.
Everyone has a story. They may not be legendary, but they are important and memorable, especially to our children and grandchildren. I am talking about family histories.
I keep hearing of people in the Golden Triangle area who are penning their own personal memoir. Oh, how I wish my grandparents had done this.
I know of at least three people who have hired a ghost writer. Most Mississippians probably do not need a ghost writer. We have a legacy of exceptional storytelling. Few can spin a tale like a southerner.
Now, we have computers with spell check (the greatest invention since Johannes Gutenberg constructed the printing press). We can insert sentences and paragraphs after a page is completely written, and then just send them to the printer. We can delete. Anyone who remembers carbon paper and Wite Out will understand how great this is. All of us can use a computer, even the most dyslexic and uncoordinated people, like me.
Recently, my neighbor, Dennis Hudson, passed away. I was amazed at his seemingly endless list of accomplishments. He flew B24 bombers with the 8th Air Force during WWII, with 30 missions over Germany. He entered the Korean Conflict, stationed in Japan, and was eventually stationed at the Pentagon, in medical intelligence. While in London, England, as a military intelligence officer, he received spy photos from the U-2 flight over Russia during the Cold War. He served two tours in Vietnam. I learned all of this from his obituary. (There is so much more. You can read it all at http://www.cdispatch.com/obituaries/obit.)
Chris and I have lived across the street from him for almost seven years and knew very little about him. I regret that so much. This is a man who helped make history. I hope that his many accomplishments and bravery are recorded in great detail for his family.
My mind is filled with snippets of family stories: a great-great grandmother who was in the court at Versailles and eloped with a violin player; a great-aunt who was a nun and (maybe) had a boyfriend; a cross-dressing uncle (again - maybe, maybe not). How sad that these stories were never recorded.
My column today is written for all grandparents. Please start a memoir. Few of us are as remarkable as Dennis Hudson. But, we all have a history that is interesting and worth recording. Your progeny will thank you. Don't let them learn about you from an obituary. It is so much more interesting to chronicle your own story than to have it retold by people who did not live it.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.