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                     ...and whatever else catches the fancy of personal historian Tom Gilbert

May, 2016

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Obon and Japanese War Flags

May 29, 2016
Japanese World War Two souvenir flag
On Memorial Day in the United States we remember all the service men and women who died in various wars fighting for our freedom. When we are in the patriotic spirit it can be difficult to view the lives of enemy soldiers with compassion and consideration. After all, they are part of the foreign forces, the opposition intent on "their" side.

The stories of combat and the horrible conflicts of war often remain silent, bottled up in the veterans who've seen things they do not want to remember or re-live. Still, it is part of their lives and legacy, to have served their time and dealt with the harsh realities of fighting.

In Japan their is a festival called Obon where the spirits of ancestors are honored. This morning I was watching the CBS Sunday Morning program and was taken in by telling of Americans who have decided to return Japanese War flags. These flags were common trophies of American G.I.'s from  their World War Two experiences. But to the Japanese these flags are more than keepsakes or good luck charms carried into combat. They are considered the spirit of the soldier. To receive these returned flags is emotionally and spiritually gratifying.

In the program's story, The flags of their fathers, Lee Cowan reports on tales of returned Japanese flags. You can feel the emotion - powerful and cathartic. Pay particular attention to Terry Stockdale speaking about the flags his father kept stowed away in a footlocker. Terry's dad refused to send the flags back, but years after his father passed away Terry took matters into his own hands. Research led him to a couple who run a non-profit, the Obon Society. Keiko and Rex Ziak have spent a great amount of their personal money to reunite the flags with Japanese families. Time can eventually heal and this story gave some vivid examples of this.

Stepping Up to High School

May 24, 2016

This time of year many are graduating from college and high school. Those are momentous times and to be treated with the pomp and circumstance they deserve. But there are other times when we go through big transitions in school. One of them is moving from middle school to high school.

I have now been teaching 5th grade at the same school in Albuquerque, New Mexico the past four years. The school is pre-K through 8th grade. Many of the children attend that whole stretch, or a considerable number of those years. As a result they make long lasting friendships and when the step up to high school it is a real rite of passage.

My first 5th grade class at this school graduated today from 8th grade. I've watched some of them develop over the past four years and I have fond memories as I consider how they will now move into an important part of life. High School can be a great time of growth, but it is full of challenges. There are the anxieties about self-image, the hormones, the need to establish an identity and a certain amount of rebelliousness comes with this time, too. Parents who've been through teenagers in high school know all too well what I am referring to.

Proud parents, family and, of course, teachers all watched the graduation today with pride. I wish these former students all the best. I hope they discover their gifts and, more importantly, put them to good use. How we live our lives is key to a life well-lived and the legacy we leave.

Stories You Didn't Know You Had

May 18, 2016

Sometimes you have stories about your life, your family members, or friends and acquaintances that you didn't know you had. How do those stories come to light?

Usually it takes a good listener willing to ask good questions. I've explored various types of questions over the years and I've had some surprising tales told to me by people I interviewed, often because I was willing to let them think, then talk. I had to be a good listener who was not so intent on my next question, but rather let the stories emerge from what had already been asked.

Lori Gillespie, a personal historian relatively new to the fine organization APH (Association of Personal Historians) has posted something new to the APH Blog for Personal History Awareness Month. In Everyone Has a Story, Including My Dad, she relates finally getting a story from her Dad and also the importance of being ready at the right time to listen to people who become willing to talk about their life.

Personal History Passion

May 16, 2016

May is Personal History Awareness month.

If you wonder what your ancestors were like, what kind of people they were, where they came from and what they did with their lives, you are not alone. More and more people are searching and researching their family history. Your past, including the history of your parents, grandparents and the rest of the “family tree” is a rich source waiting to be discovered. If you don’t already know the stories that make up your family history you are missing out on a vital part of your story.

There is also the story of your life – all your experiences, values, expectations, lessons and more are waiting to be shared with your family. They need to know about your life journey. You need to know about it, too. Critical reflection of your life journey is beneficial on many different levels.

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End of School Days Storiesschool days stories

May 11, 2016

We are getting near the end of another school year. That means the students, teachers and parents are all a bit frazzled. Summer is on the horizon and as a teacher I am looking forward to the break. At this point in the school year the fifth graders are ready for a break, both from school and me. Ditto.

Think back on your school experiences, especially as the year winds down. Do you remember being antsy for summer? Did you get a yearbook and spend time with your friends as you wrote your comments and sentiments about each other and the year?

Everybody probably remembers their school days, both good and bad. I grew up in a military family and we moved a lot. A lot! I went to about 10 different schools by the time I graduated from High School. That meant a great deal of varied experiences. I made friends, moved away, made new friends, dealt with being the "new kid" and so on. I survived and had a lot of good experiences, too.

A story posted to Huffington Post comments on the stories we have from school days and what it is like to be remembering your own experiences and also hearing about it as a parent when your kids climb into the car after another school day. Everyone's Life Is a School Story by Rebecca Green is online here.

Top Hobbies Are Clues to Life Story Subject Matter

May 5, 2016
hobbies such as playing cards
Do you have any hobbies? Just about everybody has favorite ways to spend their time. Over the years I've collected stamps, baseball cards, coins, done lots of reading, listened to a great deal of music, tried my hand at various kinds of writing, and my love of people's history and stories has evolved from a hobby to a vocation for personal history.

I believe your hobbies can be a good source for inspiration when you are writing about your life. Think about the hobbies you've had over the years, from childhood to later in life. I found a list of 50 popular hobbies online at and among many of the ones you'd expect to see there such as reading, watching TV, hunting, fishing, cooking and sewing, it was interesting to see that family time came in at number three. Combine that with playing cards (#28) and I could write a story about how our family loves to get together on Sundays for a meal, to visit and to play canasta.

Here's also a post about 72 hobbies that men (and maybe women) might like from Rough and Tumble Gentleman.

If you want to start a new hobby or even search for new ideas then check out A Full Guide On How To Start A New Hobby.Some of the takeaways for me from the article included how hobbies can introduce us to new people, widen our knowledge and skills, and improve our confidence and self-esteem.

Pick one of your hobbies and write what you like about it, why it gives you enjoyment and try to recall a particular time when you were involved with that hobby and a significant life event happened.

Everybody has a story to tell!
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