Merlyn on Media

What Are You Waiting For?

Harold & Audrey Reineke, flanked by the blog author and his kids

Harold & Audrey Reineke, flanked by the blog author and his kids

There’s an old saying that goes something like this… “If you knew the world was going to end today and you had time to call just one person, who would it be & what would you say… and what are you waiting for?”

I was reminded of that recently when a very dear friend of mine lost a close relative. The relative was elderly but in otherwise good health when a senseless accident took his life in an instant. With him went a lifetime of experiences and stories, lessons that generations of his family will no longer have access to. History writ small but precious, gone forever.

Most of my own elderly relatives are gone now, but being the self-appointed family historian, I did try to make some effort while they were alive to record a few of their stories. As a family history project for my grandfather Harold Reineke’s 90th birthday party, I traveled to my former hometown of Modesto California to meet with Harold and his wife Audrey, asking if I could record an interview with them about their early childhood and marriage experiences. In the several hours that we spent in those interviews, I got to know my grandparents in ways I never imagined. There were no tales of amazing exploits, just very simple stories of their experiences living through two world wars, the Great Depression, and building a family together on the farm through what would become 76 years of marriage. Some of their stories were so private that I promised to never share them, but many others made it into a small book that I published which has become a family heirloom for their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren… and hopefully generations to come.

I still have one elderly cousin remaining who is truly my final link to our family’s past. She too has been active in remembering and writing down those family history stories. One was from our mutual ancestor, John Sinex. John was still in his mid-teens when he volunteered in his local Illinois Volunteers regiment as part of the ‘Grand Army of the Republic’ during the Civil War. Grandpa Sinex would regale family of his exploits during the War, and even would sing some of the ‘camping songs’ his regiment favored during evenings around the camp fire. John Sinex managed to live long enough to attend the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (a battle in which he participated), an amazing event in 1939 made famous in the opening scene of Ken Burns’s PBS documentary, THE CIVIL WAR. My cousin remembers these stories from John Sinex, as told to her when she was a little girl.

Thanks to those stories, what would be simply names and numbers on a family tree have come to life for me. With access to technology so readily available today, we can & should record the words of our elderly relatives… not just for ourselves, but for the generations of our families to come.

So who would you call, and what are you waiting for? I know who I’m dialing this weekend…


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Merlyn Reineke

About Merlyn Reineke

Merlyn Reineke is Executive Director of Montgomery Community Media, which provides media training and community-based content by-and-for the residents of Montgomery County.

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