Ready to make a Memory Postcard?
Time: +/- 75 mins (scale as needed)
YOU NEED: Something to write with
THEY NEED: Photographs; memories; a comfortable seat.
Today you’re going to interview a partner, parent, grandparent, spouse, sibling, resident, or friend.
During the interview, your primary goal is to be present and LISTEN CLOSELY. Clear your brain of all external worries and thoughts, including what question you’re going to ask next. Look the person in the eye when they’re talking. BE THERE, in the room. Don’t be afraid of a little silence or contemplation. If they are unable to recall certain things, that is totally fine.
Almost everything you say should be a question. “Wait, what did he/she look like?” “What happened next?” “Why did you feel that way?” “Can you tell me more about that?”
Memory is hardly ever mapped in a straight line; follow the memories where they lead, and gently push for specific details when you can. This will be an adventure.
STEP ONE – THE CONVERSATION
If you have photographs, start with those. Who are these beautiful people? Where are they? What’s happening?
At this point, don’t worry about writing flowery, complete sentences. As your partner talks, you’re just scribbling rough bullet-points, and asking follow-up questions. Even if the answers seem obvious, it’s still worth slowing down and talking through it.
If you don’t have photos, or want to move beyond them, you can also choose some questions from the list at the bottom of this guide.
STEP 2 – ZOOMING IN
Time: 15 mins.
Now review your notes and choose one special memory to zoom in on. You might say, “We can only write one postcard today; I really loved such and such memory, what do you think?”
Once you’ve mutually decided on a memory, you’re going to ask another short round of follow up questions.
This time, you should focus on:
1) The characters
2) The setting
Your goal is to gather way more detail than you could ever use. Tell me more about such-and-such. What did they like to do for fun? What was their personality like? What was their defining physical feature? What did they sound like? The more specific and quirky the details, the better.
The reason we do this is two-fold. First, it’s going to give you, the writer, the vivid details you need to write a great scene. And, just as importantly, it’s challenging your partner to slow down and look closer. To remember more clearly. To put into words what they’ve always always taken for granted.
STEP 3 – Writing the Memory
Time: 20 mins
“Okay,” you say now with a smile, “I’ve got it. Just give me a few minutes to write this up.”
This is where it gets really fun. You’ve taken a memory out of someone else’s head. Now, you’re going to filter it through your imagination…and give it back to them.
Your partner won’t mind if you take a little silent time to write. Remember, you’re writing in the first person–“I”–from their point of view, in their voice. Memory Postcards are usually 250-500 words long. That’s not much space, so skip the general stuff and get right to it. MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN RIGHT AWAY. Immerse us in the scene.
STEP 4 – SHARING THE MEMORY
Time: 10 mins
When you’re finished, read it out loud. Ask them if it sounds right.
When you’re both happy with it…you’re done! You’ve just done something amazing. You’ve remembered…together. If you’re working in a larger group, be sure to go around the table and share everyone’s memories. If you have time and would like, you can switch roles.
Now you can login to your SBYF account and add it to the Memory Library.
- Click on the “Create a Postcard” tab
- Add any scanned photos or images you want to include with the memory
- Type the memory into the box provided. Be sure to list yourself as the Scribe.
- Review the postcard one last time
- Hit publish…hooray!
- Share the postcard with your Memorees’ friends and family!
Important note: If working with an individual who is cognitively impaired, you must first obtain permission from that individual’s legal guardian/conservator. If we are notified of any postcards that have been posted without permission, we will remove them from the library.
If the individual you’re working with doesn’t want to publicly share their memory, that’s totally fine. Just don’t hit “Publish.” Keep the postcard as a “draft” in your account and print out as many copies as you need!
Who has been the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him/her?
What was the happiest moment of your life?
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
What was your childhood like? Where did you grow up?
Are there any funny stories your family tells about you that come to mind?
Are there any funny characters from your life that you want to tell me about?
What are you proudest of?
What was your first job?
Can you tell me about your parents?
Any siblings? What can you tell me about them?
Who was your best friend growing up?
What games did you like to play as a kid?
Were your grandparents around? What were they like?
Can you tell me about the house you grew up in? How about the town?
Did you ever go on vacations/trips? Where?
What was your favorite season growing up? Why?
Who cooked in your house? What was your favorite meal?
What was your favorite holiday? How did your family celebrate it?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Looking back, who was the biggest influence on your early life?
What is the most afraid you have ever been in your life?
How would you like to be a kid growing up today? How would life be different?
If you could write a postcard to your great-great grandkids reading this in 100 years, what would you tell them?
*Note: a few of these questions were borrowed from the excellent Storycorps interview guide