Answering questions from the future


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I’d asked more questions of my parents and grandparents.

What were you afraid of as a WWII child or adult in Lincoln County? How did you survive watching your sons leave, not knowing if they would return? Did their letters home from far away islands provide hope or despair? How did the Korean or Vietnam Wars affect your daily life? Did you read books, go to movies at the Ross Theatre in Toledo? Were you a logger or a fisherman? What did you dream but never experience?

I wish I had asked these and many, many more. Conversations with friends and relatives throughout the nation reassure me this is a common wish — to have asked more questions. Now we are enmeshed in a viral emergency that has confined us in self-isolation, quarantined at home or in hospitals. We share the fright, the anger, the moodiness, the hope, the faith that we will survive, while being fully aware that we may not.

Somewhere, sometime in the far future, our children, grandchildren and great — or many times great — grandchildren will wonder how we survived, how our beliefs, anger or faith helped us through the weeks or months that changed our lives forever. They will want to hear about family members lost to the virus. They will crave the details of daily life.

Our descendants will have some access to the news stories of these days. There will be collections of documentaries. Books, poetry and music will be written and composed. But what those who are little people right now will need for junior high and high school research projects and for endless opportunities in college to research this time that I will dub the “Coronavirus Nightmare,” is the personal and family history that only we can provide.

As a writer who loves to research local history, I know how vital personal and community information is to the creation of human-interest stories that are mined for details, sometimes heartrending, sometimes “juicy,” often just bits of everyday life. I have spent hours reading through the back issues of the former Lincoln County Leader and the News-Times over the years, searching for material to enliven my stories or just to share with descendants of people I research. Those are valuable bits of information for a writer, and treasures for relatives and descendants.

Now, while we are engrossed in this pandemic, is the time to create the treasures for our descendants, for the researchers and writers who will study our time here in 2020. It isn’t difficult. One need not be a professional writer or reporter. I offer the following list of possible projects specifically for Lincoln County residents, in hopes that one or more will call out to you from the future:

Keep a journal or diary. Write detailed entries of your daily life, your mood, your disappointments and your joy. Or just write tiny notes like we might do in baby books. Whatever is you. Let yourself think of a specific child who might love this information as a student, even if it is just an imagined one in the far future.

Write and save letters. If you still correspond by letters with distant friends and relatives, emphasize what happens in your daily life. Keep their letters and copies of yours. Put them in a special box and don’t forget to keep them with the stamped envelopes!

Copy and keep social media messages that show the concern, the positive encouragements, and maybe copy some of the memes.

Save some editorial cartoons from your daily and weekly newspapers. Often these more clearly illustrate the mood of the county than a long letter could. When possible, make sure the date is included.

Make videos of everyday life. Include the children, the teens, the parents and any other people living in your house.

Save greeting cards. We have just been informed that national guidelines will continue until at least April 30 so that means Easter celebrations will be like none other we have ever experienced. If you receive Easter cards, save them. I have so enjoyed the vintage cards I inherited from various relatives over the years.

Save pandemic information cards. I received “President Trump’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America” in the mail this past week. In another decade, that card will be a valuable item in someone’s collection.

Take photos. Lots of photos. Your new, everyday life. All the people you are sharing life with and how you are coping with the changes. Photos of your empty street.

Interview the children in your home. Design a list of age-appropriate pandemic discussion points and capture their answers.

Watch for specific information that will be important to tell the story of life in Lincoln County in 2020. For example, Newport Fisherman’s Wives posts about how the pandemic has affected the coast’s vital fishing industry and families; the impact of the closure of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians’ Chinook Winds Casino and the tribes’ other offices and businesses; school closures (those poor seniors); the list is endless.

Of course, most of us don’t have adequate storage to collect all 10, but if we choose one, perhaps involve others, it will be appreciated “someday” — my favorite excuse for saving things.

Grace Castle is a former employee of the News-Times and its sister publication, the Lincoln County Leader. Her weekly column, “Over the Coffee Cup,” appeared in both papers in the 1970s. She is the author of “A Time to Wail, An Indian Country Novel.” Contact her at [email protected]

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