When I entered high school, I was still very shy. My mother somehow managed to convince me that I could overcome this by taking a drama class. In the first class the teacher had us sit in a circle and play a memory game, starting with “I went to the moon and I brought….” The next person would say the line, the object and then add another one to the list. As we went along we recited everything the people before us had said. If you forgot something you were out and it continued until there was only one person left.
At the end of the game, the teacher pointed out that the people with the best memories looked at each person as they recited the object that person had added to the list. By looking at their faces he explained, we added a visual “prompt” that helped us remember. Although the drama class didn’t make me less shy, I never forgot the lesson.
When I started volunteering at the Museum, my knowledge of Canadian Air Force history was very basic. Growing up I was subtly surrounded by evidence of Canada’s great conflicts through cenotaphs, Remembrance Day ceremonies, school assignments, and family lore. My family was proud of my grandparent’s service to Canada, both my grandmothers were war brides, and I am married to a Canadian serviceman. But I don’t have the in depth knowledge of a historian.
I loved the artefacts. There was something very special about holding and touching a piece of history, but after a while I realized that while the artefacts were fascinating, it was the stories behind the artefacts that were the true treasures.
Think about what it’s like to clean out the basement or storage room. It all looks like junk. But then we sort through it and find a toy we loved when we were five, old letters, photographs, or grandpa’s medals. We tell the story. The story behind the junk becomes the real world version of “I went to the Moon” and the junk becomes a keepsake. The story is our context. The artefact is our “visual prompt” and we hold it and pass it down to each new generation. As time passes we may realize that we are holding something larger than our family history and we donate it.
And imbued with meaning from our story, the object becomes an artefact. We’ve passed our keepsakes down and contributed to Canada’s history through the memories we share.
History becomes then, not what happened three hundred years, four hundred years or a thousand years ago; it becomes what happened to us yesterday, what is happing today, and what will happen in our future.
I believe that we can choose to look at history in a more personal way; as the combined memories of our nation.
This Remembrance Day, while remembering the sacrifices of our nation’s soldiers, take the time to ask your family members about their own personal stories. Look at them again in the light of the larger historical context. Put yourself in a soldiers place, a mother’s place, a child’s place. Imagine how you would feel. Become part of the story, make it personal. Lest We Forget!
Corrine Bainard, CAFM volunteer