On quilts and life stories.

My wife, Halina, visited a quilting expo recently. She came back with vivid descriptions of the many beautiful, handmade quilts on display. As she spoke, some of the patchwork quilts I’ve seen in the past came to mind. You probably know the kind, the ones composed of fabric swatches of all shapes and colors. And I realized these quilts had parallels to family history.

How? As I see it, our families certainly are “crazy quilts,” composed of people of all shapes, sizes and colors; sporting a wide range of political leanings, philosophies and religions. In our family quilts, life stories are the swatches; memories are the threads that bind those swatches one to another. Stitched together, each life story becomes an integral part of the whole. And just like the quilts created at quilting bees, each of our “family quilts” has its own personality and character.

But fail to record those life stories and memories will begin to fade; the ties that bind, that tell us who we are and where we come from will loosen. Our family quilt will lose one swatch, then two, then more. Pretty soon our quilt will start looking like Swiss cheese. Eventually we may have no quilt at all.

That’s why I think recording family history, particularly through video biographies, is so important. Video serves to keep our stories and storytellers alive. The greater the number of life stories we collect and pass on, the more complete our family quilts will be. And as the years pass, our quilts will grow larger, keeping each of us warm in the knowledge of where we came from and where we fit into the fabric our own family history.

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