At Home, by Bill Bryson

For those interested in going beyond the theme of places that loom large in our family stories to the theme of how these places fit into a larger human history, this might just be the book for you. Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life was published in 2010 and reviewed by the New York Times and the Washington Post. Bryson was also interviewed about it on NPR’s Morning Edition, where you can also find a link to an excerpt from the book.

I must admit – I have not personally read this book, but it has been recommended to me by many people and it is definitely on my list. Let me know how you liked it and/or if you have any other recommendations on the topic!



Try This: List of Addresses

93 Lewis St, the second track on Dreams & Ghosts, invites you to consider what places loom large in your family stories. For those interested in actively recording their reflections on these questions, I like to offer a variety of writing exercises to accompany these invitations.

Try this:

  1. On a blank piece of paper (or with a voice recorder), try to remember all of the addresses at which you have lived in your life, starting with where you were born and working forward to where you live now. It doesn’t have to be a complete address, just whatever you remember. Post office boxes count, too. Extra points if you can remember the home phone number attached to the address.
  2. When you’ve finished, take a moment to review the list. How did you do? Which residences had you almost forgotten? Which residences stand out more in your memory than the rest?
  3. Start a new page / voice memo. Start with the first address. Do you have any memories of it? If not, what do you remember others in your family mentioning about it? Go for as much detail as you can gather: its physical appearance (throughout the seasons), the people who lived there, any and all events that took place there (in your life or someone else’s that you know about). If you get stuck, close your eyes and visualize the location as best you can.
  4. See how far down through the list you can work, jotting down detailed notes about each location. This will likely not be possible in one sitting, but can be a good place to start any time you want to work on your recollections.

What have you discovered? What surprised you? What are the places that endure in your memory and in your family stories? What are the gaps that might be able to be filled by others who remember these places?

If you like, I welcome you to share your story, and let me know how you experienced this exercise. You may also be interested in looking at other writing exercises on this blog.

Track 2: 93 Lewis St – Stories in Places, Places in Stories

The photos featured in the banner of this blog are all from the front steps of what I like to call our “family homestead”. 93 Lewis St has been home to three generations of my ancestors, including to my great-aunt, who still lives there. Whenever I visited her as a child, I heard new stories about the people who lived there and what their lives were like. I wrote about these story snippets in the song 93 Lewis St, the second track of Dreams & Ghosts.

In writing this song, I realized that the spaces in which our family stories take place are as much characters as are the people who move through them: gardens, kitchens, tool sheds, living rooms, main streets, workplaces … they are more than the backdrop for the real, human moments we tell about later. Sometimes there are entire stories to tell just about the “lives” of these places and what they bore witness to over the years.

In honor of all the spaces that shape family stories everywhere, this song’s invitation is: What are the places that loom large in your family stories? What are the addresses that people still talk about? What are the homesteads (real or figurative) you long to return to?

You’re welcome to share your story and experience, as my ears and heart are always open! You may also want to check out posts related to the category 93 Lewis St: Story & Place and/or other Invitations offered by the songs of this album.