There are many reasons for us to reflect on our lives right now. Living through a pandemic certainly one. I am fortunate enough to do this from the safety and comfort of my home with my family around me. What stories are we going to reflect on in the future about this time?
When I was in Grade 10 I had an opportunity to use a high school history assignment as an excuse to dig deeper. This morning I was thinking about this assignment and dug it out. I kept it. It is an assignment about Australia's role in World War II and it has the stories of my grandparents in it - their reflections as a soldier and as a teenager helping the war effort at home. I am proud of all of these stories and these people. Today I realised what a pivotal moment writing this assignment was in my life.
In re-reading it this morning, it reinforced my feelings about my Grandfather holding back on his story. Short responses to my questions. But the day I interviewed him, he got a box out and showed me the things he had kept from the war, his medals and photos. Some of those photos were quite graphic - burying Japanese solders in a shallow grave the day after a raid. His story reflected a very human side - that the graves were shallow to allow for a more appropriate burial at a later date. I have since learned that a Japanese prisoner actually saved his life. He was in the back of a moving truck - at all man standing up facing backwards to guard the Japanese prisoners. One of these prisoners saw a large branch coming towards him, grabbed him and pulled him down.
I also smiled this morning as I read a quote from my Grandma when asked about what it was like in Childers at the time. Her first sentence was:
"As a teenager - a shortage of men!"
I remember my family being very proud of this assignment. I particularly remember my Uncle Warren seeing it for the first time and showing people proudly - it was his story too. He even tried to get it published in the local newspaper. I realise now what a confidence boost this was for me as a storyteller.
My husband's side of the family are of Maltese and German descent. They too have stories of the war. Malta was heavily bombed and I wish we could have known more about those family stories. My grandfather-in-law fought for Germany in World War II. It was a subject I couldn't talk with him about around the kitchen table as he was a strong believer in what he fought for. But here he was, living with shrapnel in his head as a permanent legacy of war with many evidenced stories of the impact of Americans living in Germany post-war. One day, this story will be researched and written down for our family.
I am fortunate that I was schooling in a time when the curriculum enabled me to be more creative with my research and assignment practices. My eldest daughter is very interested in history as well. From a young age she showed interest in visiting museums and is currently looking at a career path along these lines. Her assignment work is so process-orientated though that I find it stifling. As my Year 10 History teacher Mrs Green reflected:
It would be great to see opportunities for personal histories to be in the curriculum to inspire future generations - to learn from the past.
Our stories are our fodder for creative inspiration. Lest we forget.