Monday, January 09, 2012

what is important?

My father, Paul Johnson, was born in 1923. This photo shows him at about 19 years. My dad and I are having a good visit here in Kingston, and I have been asking him questions about his early life in Canada. In this photo, the little boy in the sailor hat is my dad, age 5 or 6. It was taken shortly after my father and his mother Anna emigrated to Canada from Finland in 1928. On the extreme left of the photo is John Niskala, the widowed father of three she married. The man in the centre of the photo is Tom Johnson, my father's uncle, who adapted my dad. Anna's sister, Alma, took the photo.

I want to put my father's story into a book for my children and grand children. These kinds of stories are important.


  1. Yes Judy, these stories are so important. My father recorded two cassette tapes of his memories, prompted by my questions. He hasn't continued past age 15, yet. Have a wonderful visit!

  2. Jude is working on a book for her son, yesterday's bog entry. Must be a good year for book. Yes, it is about keeping the family close. This is a good time to collect more memories. Take care - hold close and fast.

  3. Yes, the stories are important to put down. Perhaps a beginning would be a tape recording of your conversations with him so that his 'voice' and words could be kept "as is." Something for you to go back to and reference when you need to. Lots of photos - or at least those that have survived.

  4. Oh my--this is a wonderful post--what a great project (as if there were not enough)--Maybe I'll get around to pulling those fragments of my father together for a compendium in time for fathers day in June (lost him to a heart attack when I was 10)--mostly retain some old shots and my memories, which will have to suffice since there's noone left to talk to about him.

  5. They are so important. We need to ask the questions and take an interest.
    I know when we drive through to the town I grew up in, I tell stories of my growing up boys laugh at my reminiscing and stories, and I am sure I bore them, but I think in years to come they will remember some of those stories.
    My MIL died recently, and she had begun jotting down memories and her story, but so much is lost.
    As we get older ourselves, we are more interested in the lives of our forefathers.
    Something we should all be thinking about.

    Jacky xox

  6. So agree-these stories ARE important. I've been immersed in photos and such of my mother's. It's fascinating, but unfortunately there is no one left of her generation to answer questions. I do have the interviews from the early 1980's when my mom sat with my grandma and many family photos. Much was identified and discussed. They're great.

  7. i have lots of pictures of my mom and dad as they were growing up. my dad's hobby was photography so he did a good job putting them all into an album. your post reminded me that i also have some letters that my dad and grandad exchanged. they are a treasure. great post. i love seeing pictures of other people's families.

  8. helen salo7:24 pm

    As I just lost the last of the "parent" generation on new year's Day I can attest to how important stories are or at least saving archives. My father in law was a hoarder and actually thank God ,as we unwrapped many fasinating bits of his life as he was one to never brag or tute his own horn. We found he had a much fuller and honored life than we knew ,he was 30 days shy of 93 and he lived many peoples lives in one person's life. So...gather while you can,you're lucky to have him still to tell his stories.

  9. helen salo7:28 pm

    me again, My mother wrote her story before her death and I typed it into a book for siblings and grandkids. Living in Finland and Russia during the war was definately a fascinating read for everyone. I'm so glad she did it.

  10. go mom!
    miss you
    your tetrazzini
    my house

    love you!

  11. I love asking my parents questions when I'm with them, I always learn so much - whole chapters of their lives that I somehow never knew about, amazing. I like the idea of collecting stories/photos in a book for the family.

    I knew a woman in Rhode Island who did that for a living for people. She interviewed the family, took photos, scanned old ones and made handbound books with everything. Nice.

  12. Handsome young man. Touching story. You are blessed to have him with you to share memories. My dad died 7 months before I was born; his WWII letters and my mother's photos and memories had to do...

  13. so, so important... and fragile. once the speakers are gone, it is harder to get the stories.

  14. what do you give a man who has two of everything? that's the question i asked in 2000 as we approached my father-in-law's 80th birthday, and eventually I happened upon the answer: you write a book about him. which is what i did, quiet as a mouse, surprising my husband and his brother about 30 minutes before the party festivities began. he was a quiet man, my father-in-law, and from those pages, his sons learned things about their dad they'd never heard before.

    that same year a little voice woke me up one august morning saying "write your dad's book for christmas. write your dad's book for christmas. write your dad's book for christmas." i argued loud and long about the craziness of this idea, but resistance is futile when this particular voice speaks, so i started. i interviewed daddy for days on end, asking questions, showing him photos, coaxing the stories from him. i interviewed his friends and sent letters to those too far away to join us for lunch. i scanned documents and photos, visited the local historical society for more information, and then i wrote. for weeks and weeks and weeks i wrote with music in the background from a cd i'd heard in a store, a cd that same wise voice urged me to buy.

    i sent the book off to the binder the monday before thanksgiving, and on the day after thanksgiving, daddy fell, hitting his head far too hard. on the following monday, i called the binder saying "i know you haven't even had time to open the box, but i need those books, and i need them fast." she was one of those dear souls we don't meet often enough in a lifetime, and without so much as an audible exhale of annoyance, she checked her calendar and promised me one copy on saturday, the rest to arrive the following monday.

    on the saturday morning that the first book was to arrive, i was beside daddy at the hospital, just as i had been every day that week. suddenly, as he slept peacefully, soundly, all daddy's bells and whistles went off, and i knew in that deep woman's way of knowing that it was time to call the rest of the family.

    that was about 8:30, and by 11, everyone was there save two - my husband and son who remained at home to greet the delivery truck. about 15 minutes till 1, husband and son arrived bearing a package wrapped in plain brown paper.

    i gathered everybody around daddy's bed, opened the package, and showed them the early christmas present, promising them their copy on monday. we started reading about 1 p.m., and we read and read and read, taking turns, but never stopping. we finished reading his book at 10 minutes till 5 that evening. daddy died peacefully, quietly at 5 till 5.

    the other books arrived on monday, as promised, and we made them available at the funeral home where they were the kindling of many more stories, the cd playing softly in the background. from there i became a personal historian, and for years i was deeply honored to capture stories, to scan photos and documents, and ultimately create leather-bound books (and sometimes other bindings and/or digital editions) for family members.

    i apologize for taking up so much space in my comment. i've enjoyed your blog for a long time, judy, silently because my cloth work is mostly being done over at where i'm stitching images as they appear to me, allowing them to lead me, nudge me, tickle me and assist me in writing my first book of fiction in what can only be called a sumptuous feast of creativity. but with little clothwork being shared on my main blog and thus feeling i have nothing to offer in return, i read your words, lap up your images, and thank you silently.

    i'll slink back into obscurity now, but before i do i want to bid you a public "thank you" and say: let me know if there's anything i can do to help with this most precious project, this most important project. you now know where to find me. i don't offer lightly.

  15. Thank you very much to those who have written here about the stories.

    The most recent (lenghty) comment is so kind. Wholly Jeanne, I've tried to comment on your blog, but am not allowed to because I'm not logged into word press. Maybe you can change something so that more people could comment?

    At any rate, thank you for sharing your moving story here.

    And Helen, I send condolences to you as well.

    Thanks again to everyone who commented. I'll be in touch.

  16. judy, i think i know what's happening. my open blog is at I keep the shades pulled at WritingCloth so I can be as open and honest as i know how. (and yes, there's backstory there.) i'm writing the actual book (a woman's coming of age story), i'm sharing the cloth and my deep communings with it, and i'm sharing what it's like to write in the context of my life. it just makes me feel safer to keep the door closed. i'd love to have you and anybody else peek in at either place. for WritingCloth, you'll need to:

    1. mash (as we say here) the "join" button,
    2. create a user name and password for yourself. (it'll say something along the way about paying, but ignore that. just create your user name/password, then stop.)
    3. send a quick email whollyjeanne (at) gmail (dot) com and give me just your given name and your user name (no pw).

    i'll take it from there and usher you right in to the best seats in the house.

    once again, thank you for the thoughtful, mindful approach you bring to your work with cloth. i find it soothing, comforting, oh so inspiring.


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx