Storytelling (& Story Listening)

December 10, 2012

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

Nothing captures our sons’ attention like a story from my or Justin’s childhood. They eat them up, our stories, and hang on every word, and wait wait wait for the punch line, when their eager laughter can spill out and bind our lives that much closer together.

Because that’s what stories do — they connect us, teach us, and unite us, whether we’re reliving a shared experience (Remember that time we…?) or gaining insight into a person we thought we knew so well (Grandma did what?!). Maybe we even learn something about our own place in the world by listening to our family’s stories.

Story Corps, the incredible nonprofit that records and shares stories from everyday people, is working hard to capture and preserve stories from all walks of life, and in the process proving that real life stories rival the best fiction, with all the right ingredients of tenderness, authenticity, emotion, coincidence, romance, or humor. And they exist within our own families.

I’m inspired by Marcie McGoldrick’s family tradition (via Martha Stewart) that started when her cousin culled family trivia into an after-dinner quiz that tested their family’s knowledge of one another. It’s become a tradition so compelling that even the children stick around after their holiday dinner to hear the stories and news that emerge from the quiz about their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

The same words Story Corps uses to describe their mission could apply to what I imagine happens at the McGoldrick’s, or at your house or mine when we share stories. Story Corps says, “We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, strengthen and build the connections between people, teach the value of listening, and weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that every life matters.”

If you’re looking to mine your family for some new stories this holiday season, you might be inspired by the downloadable booklet template and this great list of questions.

Do you have a classic family story that gets a laugh (or maybe a groan) every time? Have you ever heard a family story that changed the way you understood yourself? I’d love to hear!

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jennifer December 10, 2012 at 11:15 am

A year or so ago, Todd’s father and cousin did a Story Corps interview with Todd’s grandmother. Priceless! How I wish I had such a treasure for all the grandparents who have touched my life.


2 Amy Hackworth December 10, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Truly! What a treasure to have!


3 Sara @ What About Sara December 10, 2012 at 11:50 am

I recorded an interview with my grandmother a few years ago, and asked her about her life, her childhood, her marriage to my grandfather, having their nine children. I gave the CD to all of my aunts and uncles (her children) for Christmas a few years ago, and I know that my father, especially, treasures it. I loved conducting the interview – I learned so much about the woman that I so admire!


4 Amy Hackworth December 10, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Very cool, Sara. What a great gift to your family.


5 Georgia December 10, 2012 at 12:09 pm

A wonderful offering from the dynamic duo, the Hackworths!!


6 Amy Hackworth December 10, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Oh, Georgia. You’re the best.


7 heather nan December 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm

That is my mother and grandmother-in-law in one of my favorite all time images from Justin, partial? Perhaps. Ironic that Justin would send this with Amy’s words since she also has participated in Story Corps. I love nothing more than hearing Marion’s stories about her life. Trust me at 92, she’s got a lot up her sleeve. Between being a nurse in the Army as a single woman, where she met her husband to traveling to Greece for her 90th birthday, she’s got a few tales to tell.


8 Amy Hackworth December 10, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Heather, I didn’t realize this was your family! It’s such a lovely moment. I think it’s beautiful that you have such a great relationship with your in-laws. And how cool that she’s done Story Corps.


9 Sharon @ Discovering Blog December 10, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Oh, I LOVE Story Corps. They usually end with me in tears, over the beauty or love or just the evidence of humanity.


10 Amy Hackworth December 10, 2012 at 10:09 pm



11 ~j. December 10, 2012 at 1:08 pm

One of my favorite things about seeing Amy & Justin together is when they say to me, “Remember that time we went to New York together?” I love great stories and great memories.


12 Amy Hackworth December 10, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Oh, we’ll always remember Burger Heaven…and a few other great moments from that trip!


13 Ann Dee December 10, 2012 at 1:50 pm

I love this Amy. You are a beautiful writer and I agree on every front!


14 Amy Hackworth December 10, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Ann Dee. Such a compliment from the likes of you! Thank you!


15 Jolene December 10, 2012 at 3:51 pm

The idea of a family trivia game is so inspiring!


16 Amy Hackworth December 10, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Isn’t that cool? I’m excited to give it a try this year. I just did a simpler version to celebrate a friend’s birthday and it turned out so well. A family version has such potential.


17 Maria Baker December 11, 2012 at 5:52 pm

My Grandpa was in the Korean War and he has the most vivid and heart stopping memories of his time there. I feel a slight sense of panic that I will lose him before I can get them properly recorded. Sadly I only get to see him once a year and I won’t see him again until the summer. I am hoping on my next visit he will let me tape them so that I might be able to carry them forward. Also, I’m an artist and I’m trying to work them into a project as a means of art and preservation.


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