Friday, August 01, 2014

Take time to open up, listen with family members

7/19/2013

Everyone has a story to tell. Some of those stories may have more interest than others to a large number of people, but everyone’s story matters in one way or another to their family and loved ones. Such is the case with at least two local stories.

Today’s Herald includes a story about a new book, “Signs Along The Way”, which is a combination of a biography and a memoir about former Wellsville resident Elizabeth “Grandma” Layton. Elizabeth Layton’s name is known to many in this area as the namesake for the mental health center in Ottawa that bears her name because of her own battle with depression and the healing that came about in part from her budding talent as an artist. Still she was so much more than just an artist or social activist because of the topics she tackled in her art. She also was a newspaper publisher as well as a mother, wife, sister and friend.

Everyone has a story to tell. Some of those stories may have more interest than others to a large number of people, but everyone’s story matters in one way or another to their family and loved ones. Such is the case with at least two local stories.

Today’s Herald includes a story about a new book, “Signs Along The Way”, which is a combination of a biography and a memoir about former Wellsville resident Elizabeth “Grandma” Layton. Elizabeth Layton’s name is known to many in this area as the namesake for the mental health center in Ottawa that bears her name because of her own battle with depression and the healing that came about in part from her budding talent as an artist. Still she was so much more than just an artist or social activist because of the topics she tackled in her art. She also was a newspaper publisher as well as a mother, wife, sister and friend.

The book initially was authored by Grandma Layton herself but later was aided by her daughter and eventually her maternal granddaughters. Unlike most people, some of Grandma Layton’s story is known because of its publication in her family’s newspaper, The Wellsville Globe, as well as in the book “The Life and Times of Elizabeth ‘Grandma’ Layton” by her longtime promoter Don Lambert yet there still remained more to tell.

The rest of the story includes facts, anecdotes, photos and more – including family members’ personal insights – the person they saw as the glue holding their family together.

Hopefully every family has someone fulfilling that role. It is just as important that their story be told too. Whether the story is in writing, via video, audio tapes or some other method it is important to capture families’ stories and record them in some manner for those who follow – most especially other family members. Besides little known facts and other aspects of someone’s life it can be as liberating for the story teller as it is for those who consume it. Just think of how many veterans go to their grave without telling the stories that shaped their world view, their work habits and even their parenting style. How many lessons could be learned if more people opened up and told their story?

Sadly too many of our elders haven’t been asked to tell their story because few stories fit within the confines of a 140-character text message. Nor are those stories suitable for mass consumption in other social media. The best stories should be told without distractions to an interested audience who have a vested interest in the people and events that shaped their lives because no story has just one side to it.

The introduction to “Signs Along The Way” includes this quote from Jane Stroll: “My mother had a problem because she grew up during The Great Depression. And I had problems because I grew up during her great depression.”

That’s a powerful statement and is one that others in the family should know and embrace to better understand their own ancestry and its possible impact. If nothing else, storytelling can yield empathy and understanding of where someone has been and how far they’ve come. Those are life lessons that can be learned from the lens of one’s own family if they care enough to ask for their family’s stories to be told.

 —Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher

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