Every “Thing” Has a Story!
I have been thinking about this article for a few weeks. It is what I would call an opinion piece or maybe better—ramblings! Lately, due to some less-than-good news about my prostate cancer, I have been ruminating about family stories. And, well, isn’t that how this website got started? Early on, I wrote several articles about family stories that Andrew and I wanted to keep alive in our memories and pass on to others. Once in a while, I still do an article about remembering a story that was passed on from past generations, since I was fortunate to have relatives that were storytellers.
I have a saying that I have been using the past few years, a saying that I borrowed from my brother, Dave: “Every thing has a story.” Dave and I have both quoted this when someone asks a question and suddenly we find ourselves going off on some long story concerning what should have been a short answer! Actually, I try not to do this too often so that I don’t notice the listener’s eyes glaze over in boredom! When I am in my storytelling mode, I try to get to the point as quickly as possible and also try to make the story interesting.
The idea for this article came about because a few weeks ago my daughter, Julie, reminded me that I had some “story starters” to finish. At Christmas time, 2021, she gifted me a subscription to a memory saver experience called Storyworth. During the 2022 year, each week a new question was sent to me via email, and I was to write the answer to that question in the form of a story. The questions ran the gamut from “What was your Dad like when you were growing up?” to “Tell us about an adventure you’ve been on.” I have to admit I was not completely conscientious in writing a story every week. But, as Julie reminded me, I can still write stories to answer the questions I missed up until April of this year. Then, I can have them printed into a book. I have to get busy on this because, as you all know, I do like to tell and write stories!
That reminder from Julie got me thinking about all the stories that are associated with almost everything that Linda and I have in our house, in the garage, and in our barn! Whether it’s an interesting story or not, as I sit here in my library typing this on March 14th, I can quickly formulate hundreds of stories! I look over to my left, and I see a small bronze statue that my niece Melanie gave me several years ago. The statue depicts a Scottish shepherd, in a kilt of course, with a border collie. I love that statue as it reminds me of my niece, about wearing a kilt, and about watching dogs herding sheep in Scotland.
I look to my right, and I see a drinking mug with my Sigma Pi college fraternity crest on it and inside are several little flags sticking out. Hmm—stories about my fraternity days come to mind (I won’t go there!), as well as stories about my days as a vexillologist (a flag expert) for the National Flag Foundation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Straight ahead of me I see a painting of a farm scene painted by my father’s first cousin, Howard Sechler. Although an amateur artist, the paintings I have of Howard’s are well constructed, nostalgic, and family treasures. The stories about Howard and his brothers Andrew and Harold are also family treasures.
Many people, especially of younger generations, seem to not want to collect. Linda and I have many collections, family heirlooms, memorabilia, and items that we enjoy scattered throughout out home. Andrew will joke with us that we need to start the Hagenbuch Museum of Curiosities! But, each one of those items produces a story. They aren’t just “things” that sit on a shelf or hang on the wall or sit in the corner. Our items have stories attached to them. Take, for instance, one of the latest gifts we received from Andrew and Sara.
In 1993 our family of five took a five-week trip west, making a circular route in my 1989 Chevy truck and visiting many states and relatives in Missouri, California, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. We camped most of the time, stayed with relatives a few times, and toured several National Parks. I wrote a journal keeping track of each day of our adventures. Last year, Andrew and Sara presented Linda and me with a large framed depiction of one of the famous arches in Arches National Park. But the depiction is made up of tiny colored words that are my journal entries. With a magnifying glass I can read the complete journal encapsulated in the famous arch. It is not only a keepsake of our family trip but also an heirloom. This special piece is one of our things which also has a wonderful story.
Several years ago Linda and I added a piece onto our house which included an addition to our “boudoir” area. We have separate bedrooms due to snoring and different sleep habits. The additional room became my bedroom and (to use a phrase I am not fond of) is one of my “man caves.” It is filled with memorabilia, photos, books, and other things. Hanging on the wall is a small bouquet of what looks like weeds. What’s the story? During one of our visits to Maine to be with daughter Katie and her family, our grand daughter Hadley picked a few flowers and grasses from the field on their property and gave them to me. I tied them with a string, brought them home and they hang on my bedroom wall. Hadley was only 3 years old at the time and she probably does not remember giving me that small bouquet. But, I will tell her this story and let her know how special that simple gift is to her Gramps.
Throughout our house we have memorabilia from the several trips Linda and I took overseas before the pandemic. Among the many “things” there is a small icon from a church in St. Petersburg, Russia; a water jug from Morocco; a painted tile from Pompeii; and a small representation of the Gorgon’s head from Bath, England. But, more important than these “things” are the journals I kept of our travels—pages and pages of what we did each day and even how far we traveled or how much we spent. This is a double whammy of memories: “things” that we can tell a story about and the written words that support the story. Having a backup of journal writings is especially important as our memories fade and the stories we tell may become a bit jumbled.
For example, Andrew and I joke about the “sauerkraut story” that I tell about Andreas Hagenbuch feeding this Pennsylvania Dutch staple to colonial troops in 1778 during the Revolutionary War. I know I read about it years ago but cannot find the evidence. Andrew wrote in his last article about the story I tell concerning Andreas’ expertise in brain tanning hides. There are stories similar to these that have been told to me over the years. I remember my cousin, Bruce Hagenbuch, telling me a story about our Uncle “Harry” Hiram and his nightly visits to a neighbor’s chicken coop enticing the chickens over to his coop with feed. The next night the neighbor would take the chickens back to his coop the same way. It’s a fun story, but it can’t be corroborated! These stories are important as they become part of our family’s oral history, passed from one generation to another. They shape our ancestors into real people.
How many times have I wished that we knew stories about my great grandfather, Hiram Hagenbuch (b. 1847), who died at the age of fifty. If only I had asked my great uncles, aunts, and my grandfather to tell me about their father, we might know Hiram more as a person and not just a face in a photo. My father did tell me that he had been told that his grandfather Hiram always wore boots. Well, this is something! But actually this piece of information just leads us to ask more questions. Similar to this tiny bit of information about great grandfather Hiram are other little stories we should pass on to other generations. For instance, I remember when I was maybe five or six years old my father would whistle tunes as I accompanied him in his farm truck to the feed mill. And, I certainly remember when I was a boy and would complain about working in the garden. My mother would tell me to go get a pussy willow switch so she could give me “something to whine about!”
Even mundane stories are worth recording and telling. They might be the type of story that we get through quickly so the listener doesn’t get that glazed look; but years later the details in that story become part of our family legacy. I have often told the story of the first time I was introduced to my future father-in-law, Lutheran Pastor Roy Gutshall. On my second or third date with Linda, I stopped at the parsonage to pick her up and she ushered me into Pastor Gutshall’s study. There he sat and behind him was a portrait of Martin Luther. I looked at him and I looked at the portrait. Oh my! They were one and the same visage. I immediately had great respect for Linda’s father, much in the same way I have respect for Martin Luther. After her father passed away, I asked Linda’s mother if we could have that portrait of Martin Luther. It now hangs on a wall in our home where I see it every day.
I know I could spend weeks and weeks writing down the stories associated with all the “things” that Linda and I have accumulated over the years. I haven’t even touched on the stories that I could tell about the thousands of books we have on shelves in every room (yes, even the bathrooms). Christians are constantly reminded that possessions are not important (Matthew 19: 21–22). However, I would point out that if possessions—our “things”—lead to stories that are told or written down, stories that are meaningful, then they are worth keeping. The “thing” and the associated story is a keepsake.
Look around your house and write down the stories attached to your “things.” Tell the stories about your treasured items in an interesting and concise manner. “Things” have stories, and although they may not all be remembered, it’s worth the time so that even a small part of you may be remembered in the future—more than just “he wore boots!”