Congratulations to Anne Kurzrock for Winning the February 2024 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:

February is Black History Month, Sweet Potato Month, Children’s Dental Health Month, and National Scottish Culture Month (among other distinctions!). If you got to assign a monthlong observance of any type, what would it be and why?

Anne put a writer’s spin on using a monthlong observance to celebrate and preserve a priceless element of our human existence. Enjoy her winning submission:

Ann Kurzrock
Ann Kurzrock

Family stories became a significant chapter in my life when I married into a large extended family. Our Christmas and New Year celebrations were extraordinary, spanning from before Christmas until January 3 or 4 each year. Each day brought a new gathering filled with warmth and shared meals. The cast included grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, aunts and uncles, and a lively array of cousins, typically numbering between 20 and 25 at any given gathering.

The family dynamic had its unique seating arrangement, a subtle hierarchy unveiled by your designated seat. There were distinct tables for adults and kids, with me proudly graduating from the kids’ table at the ripe old age of 50. As the meals commenced, so did the storytelling.

The tales ranged from humorous mishaps, like baby Emily accidentally (or was it…) hosing down her 80-year-old grandparents, to the teenage rebellion of Wayne, who once attended a fancy dinner at an upscale restaurant in a midriff-baring shirt. Some stories evolved with embellishments over time, while others faded into forgetfulness.

When the grandparents transitioned to assisted living, their belongings sparked what I humorously referred to as the War over the Stuff. Valuable items were distributed based on family ranking, with the sought-after fancy china claimed by their oldest daughter, my mother-in-law. The fate of other possessions followed a similar pattern.

The passing of my grandmother-in-law in 2010 and my mother-in-law in 2012 marked a poignant turn in the family narrative. The once-cherished fine china ended up in a garage, its pieces broken and its significance diminished by the current owner. This stark realization highlighted the transience of material possessions — stuff is just stuff.

The true tragedy, however, lies in the loss of a priceless heritage — the rich tapestry of stories depicting life during World War II, growing up in the Depression era, raising a family in post-war Japan, and some of Wayne’s rebellious teenage years. These anecdotes are windows into survival, thriving, and the essence of our familial bonds.

With most family members now departed, I reflect on the missed opportunity to collect and preserve these precious tales. Imagine the legacy we could have built for future generations with a bit of dedicated effort. This contemplation has led me to advocate for the concept of Family Story Month — an initiative to encourage families to focus on preserving their past while building a stronger, more connected future. It’s a testament to the importance of storytelling in weaving the fabric of familial bonds that endure beyond the tangible and in the hearts and minds of generations to come.