June 23, 2009

20 Questions to ask your parents...

...or your grandparents, if they're still alive.

That's my dear grandmother in the photo. She died two years ago, but I know she wouldn't mind if I used this picture to demonstrate the unconditional love our parents and grandparents have for us.

Because they love us so much, we often don't know very much about them. Their focus is on us, and until we're adults, most of the time our focus is on ourselves.

I've been thinking about this question of what to ask your parents a lot lately, because I'm fortunate to still have both my parents alive and well. My husband lost his mother in his 20s and his father just before he turned 40. His mom died before he reached that sentimental stage when he might have started asking her what it was like to have 11 siblings, or why she didn't like cats.

Lately he wishes he could ask her why there was no music in their home, even though there's a photo of her playing the piano when his older sisters were very small, long before he was born. His father didn't enjoy music, so he never heard it during his childhood, he didn't even have a record player. But seeing that photo of his mom makes him want to ask her what kind of music she liked.

Here are some of the questions I've been asking my parents (and 91-year-old grandfather) lately. I've gotten some very interesting answers, and they seem to enjoy answering them:

1. What was your best ever family vacation?
2. Your favorite pet?
3. Your first love?
4. Your favorite teacher, and why?
5. Your best friend in grade school?
6. How did you meet (mom or dad)?
7. (If they were alive) what do you remember about VE Day?
8. (If they were alive) where were you when JFK was shot?
9. Do you remember watching the moon landing?
10. What's your favorite movie, and when did you first watch it?
11. Who's your favorite movie star?
12. What's your favorite song?
13. What's your favorite book, and when did you first read it?
14. Did you ever learn to play a musical instrument?
15. Did you ever win a trophy or award?
16. What was your first job, and do you remember your wage?
17. Do you remember the first TV program you ever watched?
18. Who's your favorite comedian?
19. What's your favorite childhood memory?
20. Who was your favorite president?

I like asking these questions as part of a conversation, but you can also ask them to write down their answers so you'll remember them. Another idea is to videotape them if they're not too self-conscious.

Most people love to answer questions about themselves and to reminisce. So go ahead, start asking questions. At the least, you'll learn something about your parent or grandparent you never knew before. You may come to understand them better, learn to love them in a different way, and strengthen the bond between you.

Do you ask your parents or grandparents about themselves? What interesting tidbits have you learned in the process? Tell us in the Comments section.


Kate Sommers said...

Is that a photo of your Grandma that you use to call Mou Mou?
Remember when we won the Halloween contest by dressing up as Raggedy Ann and Andy?
Back in the 60's that was a lot of money for a kid!

Angela said...

No- that's my Grandma Otterson in Florida. She just died two years ago at age 89. Mow mow (my mom's mother) died when she was only 62.

I DO remember the contest, but I don't remember winning money. How much was it? I have a few photos of us dressed up.

Stacey said...

Hi Angela! What a wonderful photo! What a great post!

A little over 10 years ago my mom, dad and I went to NE (from NC) to be with my mom's dad while he recovered from some minor surgery. We were having dinner one night and I asked him what he thought was the kindest thing he'd ever seen someone do for someone else. He told me this great story of seeing his father come home late one night from working on the ranch walking his horse home. He asked his father why he wasn't riding the horse. His father said, "Oh, Tony worked hard all day. I wanted to give him a break." That story had happened like 60 years before and he still remembered it as one of the best examples of lightening another's load. And now it is one of my favorite memories!

About 5 years ago I asked my mom to tell me the story of the births of her three children. I taped and transcribed the stories and made copies for her, myself and my brothers.

And finally, my favorite question to ask *anyone*: What are you passionate about?

WilliamB said...

If you can, get your relatives on tape when you ask. There's nothing like listening or watching them and the conversation is often wide ranging, covering things you never would have thought to ask. You have a permanent record, you can show your children or other relatives who weren't there, you can share copies.

We showed home movies at my grandmother's wake. The tone changed from sad (she's gone) to happy (she was an awesome woman) was those movies. Specifically, Grandma in a two piece bathing suit! It was so unexpected that everyone laughed, and started talking, and calling for the clip to be rewound again and again.

Colorado Girl said...

I lost both of parents recently. I wish I had asked some of these questions!

Ellen said...

Angela, this is my FAVORITE blog post that you've written! Thank you. And, what great stories it has sparked just in your comments section. I started scanning my photos a while back, and sending them out for identification or dates has been sparking some great conversations in my family too. Anything to start recording those memories....time is shorter than we think.

Non Consumer Girl said...

Last night, my daughter's homework was to talk to her grandparents about their lives in the olden days, and then present a talk about it the next day.

They needed to talk to them about some of these things:
games they used to play with their friends.
what they used to eat for dinner and special treats
what types of clothes they used to wear
how they used to travel to school
what they used to do for fun
What they used to do on the weekend
what chores they used to do at home

My daughter talked with my mum for about 15 mins about these things.

Angela said...

Stacey- Thanks for the great story.

William B- Another great story. My grandmother was also a beauty, and looked amazing in a bathing suit. It's nice for young people to see, so they'll start to understand the cycle of life. And I agree- it's great to videotape your loved ones.

Colorado Girl- I'm so sorry to hear that. I'm sure you have fond memories to cherish- that's the point of what we're talking about. And I hope you have siblings to reminisce with! Thanks for commenting.

Ellen- Thanks! yes, I love your idea of scanning your photos. A much more ambitious project than I would undertake, but definitely worth it. My brother, who is a professional photographer, has been put in charge of that. I'm supposed to get the home movies transferred! I've made zero progress on that.

Non Consumer Girl- Thanks for sharing that. What a great school project. What made me laugh is that the "olden days" for your parents was probably the 50s and
60s, right? Not exactly covered wagon days... I'm sure you daughter will be so happy she asked those questions when she's older. They're really good questions!

Kate Sommers said...

We won $75 and split it.I remember we each got $37.50!

Angela said...

Kate- What a memory- I remember that it was at the mall, and that I was Andy and you were Ann, and that we won 1st prize. I don't remember anything about the prize or a ceremony or if I was happy and I don't remember winning money.