Recently my sister Shannon and I visited my dad for the first time since COVID. In addition to hours spent at the dining room table eating and chatting (mostly amicably) about everything from politics to art to books to the Blue Jays, we had a beautiful opportunity to go through photos together. Dad has recently finished an impressive written tribute to his great Aunt Annie, a decorated and respected military nurse and now, with the encouragement of his children, he is working on his own story. One of his early steps has been gathering a collection of photos that follow the narrative of his life.
One by one, he pulled out these photographs, sharing them in chronological order and telling us the relevance of each. We heard tales of his lifelong love of swimming and fishing. We saw his familiar old friends as young men going to school, enjoying parties and pursuing careers. We witnessed our Mom’s arrival on the scene and then mine and then each one of our siblings in turn. I took in every detail of Dad’s life and also found myself looking for clues about my own.
What was I like as a little girl? What did I love? Were there clues about the path I would follow, the woman I would become?
We long for our stories.
For years in Journal Club and now in the Studio Yearbook, I encourage people to document their days. We so often underestimate the preciousness of our everyday life. Yet when the years go by or life changes by choice or by crisis, we realize the gift of everyday things: the way you ate a basket of peaches that summer day, the time your cat licked the icing off a birthday cake, the song you listened to on repeat, how you planted tulips for the first time and they bloomed. It is amazing to hear my great-great-aunt’s stories of the battle of Gallipoli but my heart was nourished by the simple stories of my dad and the house he grew up in. We laughed together as he told us about the time a robin, defending its nest, attacked him in the backyard.
Gather your days.
Gather them in drawings, photos and words.
Gather your stories and tell them, especially to yourself.
Last weekend I learned a lot about my dad and his life. I left inspired to gather my own stories, to honour and remember my own life so that in the years to come, I can look back and say, this is what I loved, this is who I was, these are the adventures I went on.
I hope you’ll do the same.
Take It to Your Journal: Draw the Homes of Your Past
While going back over his life, one of the activities my dad found helpful was drawing the layout of the homes he has lived in. Each time it evoked memories that had been hidden below the surface. After the drawings, he turned to writing, going through each room and making note of any associated memories, whether about the room itself or what happened within it.
An example from my life: Our dining room in Roxboro had a glittering chandelier and red velvet wallpaper on an accent wall. I thought it was the height of elegance. My parents were members of a gourmet club and when it was their turn to host, people would arrive with magnificent appetizers and desserts . As hostess, Mom would make the main course. This was my introduction to béarnaise sauce, which I didn’t like at all! The dining room was also where I did my homework. Throughout my life, the dining room table has remained one of my favourite places to host, to hang out and to work.