Today marks 19 years since my amazing grandfather passed away. He had a heart of gold, the warmest smile and a special twinkle in his eye. I have countless memories of helping him do farm chores, sneaking me lemon drops during church, and him and my grandma taking us camping in the summers. Lucky for me, my grandpa played a large role in my childhood thanks to being raised on a family farm in which my grandpa and dad farmed together. Because of this, I saw him nearly everyday for my first 18 years. My other grandpa, with whom I also shared a special bond, passed away last February. Neither passing was a shock, as both were sick in the months prior to their passings; nonetheless, it was still incredibly difficult. After all, your grandpa is such a special role in your life…often like a second dad.
One regret I have with my grandpa who passed away 19 years ago today is that I never interviewed him on camera nor made a video to be able to reflect back on and remember him by. (I’m sure if I hounded my relatives hard enough, I could track down the many VHS tapes they have with him and create my own video.) However, I only wish I could have asked him questions that I didn’t think to ask as an 18-year old, like “What were you like as a boy?” “What did you dream of becoming one day?” “Who were your heroes?” “If you could give your 20-year old self advice now looking back on your life, what would it be?”
Thankfully, six months before my second grandfather passed, I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to interview him on camera. It was a last-minute trip we had planned so the interview was very informal and casual. I used my iPhone with my kids noises in the background, my grandpa in his farm overalls (how I wanted him to look as that’s how I saw him 90% of the time), and sitting in his favorite chair. What I had anticipated taking under an hour with my 30 or so questions turned into a fascinating, two-day, beautiful, story-telling event. He shared so many stories (most of which I had never before heard), and went into great detail with his responses to my questions. It was truly a wonderful experience and a great final visit with him before his passing. I learned so much about him, his history, and our family history. The fact that I have all of it on camera is such a blessing.
After his death, my tech-savvy friend compiled and edited all of the questions and stories into a DVD. At the end of the video, we made a montage of photos of my grandfather through the years while his favorite song played in the background. I made 25 copies, bought some nice DVD cases, labeled them each with front covers of “An Interview With My Grandpa” and presented them to my grandmother, mother, brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles as Christmas gifts. It’s a great way to remember our grandfather and to show our children (when they’re older) not only what their great-grandfather was like, but also to educate them about their family history.
Here are some of the questions I used:
- Have you been told the story of the day you were born? What was your mom doing when she went into labor? Where were you born?
- Were you named after a family member or does your name have a special meaning?
- What were your grandparents like? Parents?
- What is the earliest memory you have?
- Was there a nickname that your siblings or friends called you growing up?
- What was your house like as a child?
- Did you have any pets? What were their names?
- What was your favorite subject in school? Favorite teacher?
- Who was the U.S. President you first remember being in office when you were growing up?
- What did you and your friends do for fun?
- What are some of your favorite family traditions you remember? How did you celebrate birthdays? What are your favorite Christmas memories?
- How would you describe yourself as a teenager? What were your hobbies? Favorite food? Games?
- Who were your heroes as a child?
- When did you learn how to drive? Who taught you?
- How did you meet grandma?
- How did you propose to grandma?
- What are some of your favorite memories from your wedding day? Who was your Best Man?
- What was your first car?
- Where have you traveled? Do you have a favorite family vacation memory?
- What are some of your favorite memories with your children?
- What could you tell me that I would be surprised to learn about you?
- What have been some of your greatest successes in life? Has your life unfolded in the way you thought it would?
- What advice would you give to your grandkids today in their 20s and 30s?
- What was the best advice you ever received and from who?
- What makes you happy?
These are just some of the questions I asked my grandfather, as many of the other questions were geared to him specifically. I highly advise to prepare beforehand as a little research goes a long way. Making a timeline of their life including important historical or news events, for instance, can be interesting additional insights. Try to include known family events on the timeline as well, (i.e. weddings, births, deaths, moves, etc.). Whether you choose to have it fancy and professionally done or more casual and homemade, either way it creates a priceless document for your family now and your children and their children in the future to know about where they came from. After all, it’s because of them we even exist today. In a world that seems to be focusing less about preserving one’s heritage and more about focusing on the “me” culture, it’s a nice and subtle way to teach our children about our own family history while honoring and remembering some very special grandpas and loved ones that we will never forget.