Mrs. Violet’s Hands. Photo by Saira Khan for the McElroy House. Click on the photo to read more about Mrs. Violet Bullock of Dardanelle.
Growing up in an intergenerational family with my grandmother in the home, family gatherings and daily life were filled with stories about the lives of people who had long since passed on. Likewise, the landscape was marked by these stories. I knew that my grandfather made a home on what is now a part of the Ozark National Forest near Belleville; I was often told that my mother once had a tree swing in her front yard located near where the Tyson Chicken plant sits in Dardanelle today.
When you grow up with oral histories it can become easy to overlook them. I often hear from others how they think they’ll remember the stories forever, but as soon as a key tradition bearer (a person in a family or community who is a keeper of stories and knowledge) passes away, they often find ourselves scrambling to remember the details. I can relate. Sure, the stories that are passed down may not always be accurate. Memory is a highly fallible thing. But the fact that we tell such stories at all says something very important about our past. These stories also have a great deal to do with who we are today, both as individuals and as a community. One of the reasons for this column, and one of the reasons for the McElroy House Organization in general, is to open up space—conceptually and literally—for remembering and for exploring why memory matters.
I’m not talking about nostalgia here, although certainly nostalgia factors into the stories we as a society often tell. I’m also not talking about a desire to return to some kind of idyllic past. Certain things may have been simpler decades ago, but let’s be real here: That depends on who you were. Our national history also includes lynchings, segregation, and shaming the mentally ill, just to name a few things. We’ve got a long way to go in learning how to treat one another. We should never oversimplify what it means to remember. At the same time, let’s not ignore the past in an effort to head into the future. One of the ways we build a strong future, and support a strong community, is by sharing what at first may seem like the most inconsequential of things: the everyday, local stories we’ve heard passed down.
This month is Women’s History Month. It wasn’t long ago that women couldn’t hold office or positions of public power. Of course, women have always played key roles in communities, long before any historian every recognized them as such. Each month the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources offers what we’re calling monthly sharing events where we offer skill shares and the like. This month we’re opening up our small center for people to share stories about the everyday women in their life and their community. Who are the women who played a key role in your life? What did they teach you? They can be living or deceased; they can be from this area or from far away; maybe they speak English or perhaps another language. The point here is to share the stories of the women who made you, you.
We’re asking people to bring an object to help tell their story—maybe it’s an old quilt, a photo, a packet of seeds, an old union card from the days when the women had a union at the chicken plant, a year book, etc. It can be anything. If you so choose, we’ll take photos of the objects and keep them on hand at the McElroy House for the generations to come. And if you’re interested in recording a story about a woman who influenced you, we’ll have our recording equipment on hand to document these stories for future generations. The event will take place Saturday the 14th from 10:00 a.m. Until 2:00 p.m. It’s a come and go event. We’ll have cookies and kids are most welcome. Click here to read more about the event via the McElroy House site.
Also, a few updates: Due to inclement weather we have to reschedule all of last month’s events. The symbolic groundbreaking for the flower and vegetable garden at Freedom House has been rescheduled for Friday March 13th at noon. The Yoga for Caregivers workshop is being rescheduled for April and we’ll have more details on that soon! Thanks so much for reading. Hope to see you soon! You can rsvp to the event via facebook by clicking here, or call us at 479-957-0551.
To give you an idea of what we mean by oral history radio pieces, here is a sample of a previous oral history radio piece we did for the McElroy House.
If you’d like to read some things we’ve written about other women in the community, click on any of the links below!