Storytelling, Recollections of cousin, Bob, and An Acadian Musical Tradition

Do you have a special family memory? Did you ever hear stories about generations of your family that are long gone? Are you recording these stories? If you are, great! If not, why not?

Cousin, Bob LeBlanc, and I often discuss the importance of preserving family memories and lore through story telling. We both have informally interviewed countless dozens of relatives through the course of our lifetimes. These interviews have been in the form of conversations about our own memories, the memories of family members, or of some stories passed down from older generations.

It was the summer of 2004 when I made my first formal family interview. It was an oral interview, using an microcassette audio recorder, of my uncle Jack Miller and his wife, Ann. Their son and his wife participated, as did my mother and older sister. My oldest daughter was present, too. The interview theme was “How we met” and they discussed how they met, dating, their wedding day, their children, and they shared additional information on experiences and discussed various relatives. Since doing that interview session, my uncle and aunt, and their son have all passed away. Last year, I converted the recording to a digital file format using my computer’s Quicktime audio software program and imported to my iTunes library. And, I was able to share the digital version with some relatives.

In the late summer of 2015, my father and older sister came over for an afternoon visit. We had arranged a video Skype call with his mother, and stepfather, who lived in another state. She was in her mid 90s. I recorded a portion of their video conversation, which included recollections around the time when my father and mother had just married, and her own recollections of getting married to my grandfather. She discussed her childhood, her parents, her children, her maternal grandparents, and recalled some stories of our family who, for generations, have lived on a little island off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada. My grandmother passed away some months later.

In the last several months, my youngest daughter and I have been involved with a local writing group. Using writing prompts, we practice writing and sharing our personal stories. The book our group uses for guidance is called “Room to Write” by Bonni Goldberg. My daughter enjoys it. Perhaps, she will be among the next generation of family to capture stories.

Recently, Bob and I exchanged some family stories based off our own experiences. I shared a story of having my first soda, a Coca-Cola, and from a vending machine. Bob shared a wonderful memory of three generations of musical family members. It was so enjoyable, I asked for and received his permission to share it here on our family site. Here is the story, and, “as is” casually written.:

“The Old Days among the Miller Acadians”

In the middle of the night, my mind brought me back to the time when I was I little child, back in the early 50s.This was really strange, because its been many years since I thought about this. Its about my Miller family and how they all loved to sing and dance and play music.

I had to be about 5 or 6 years old at the time. My Grandfather Leo Miller…. Pépère (the Acadien French name for Grandfather) was the name we called him, had an Old Uncle that would show up from time to time with my Pépère’s brothers. After a while, after having a few drinks, one would take out his guitar, one would have a harmonica, called by some, a French Harp or mouth organ. Then there was always the wash-tub that had the hole in the bottom middle of the tub were a string was tide that went up to the top of the mop handle that was held on to the rim of the upside down tub that was on the floor and he would move the handle back and forth to produce different sounds as he plucked on the strings. It sounded like a bass guitar, and not to leave out the small wash-board, and they would sing and dance. Then, it would not take long for someone to call out to my “Pépère’s Uncle, “play your spoons.” That’s when the roof would come off the house (as some of us would say.) That’s when, the Juice Harp [Jew’s Harp] would come out from Pépère’s Uncle’s back pocket. Them table spoons, in a sitting position, were held back to back between a finger in one hand and slapped with the other hand, played against the knee, and they would make a clicking sound and he would play this clicking sound to the rhythm of the other instruments, a fast and rhythmic click-clack -like the clickety-clack of a typewriter.

These would be called “Acadian Music Instruments” because many poor Acadians played these types of instruments as they did not cost much, and they were all very easily learned to play.

During these gatherings, my mémère would make poutine râpée. It was always enjoyed.

It was like I was back in them old days of the 50s once more among my old Acadian family.

These were truly happy times……

After, Bob and I talked about the significance of music in one’s culture and how it plays a part in family history, too. He sent me a web link to a recording of his late uncle Ray Miller playing music. It seems someone had uploaded one of his Uncle Ray’s records on YouTube. It is called, “Ray Miller One Man Band – One Man Band & #1 Hillbilly Fireball.” Be sure to check it out. Enjoy!

Thank you, Bob.


Suggested readings on recording and preserving family stories and history:

  • The Oral History Workshop: Collect and Celebrate the Life Stories of Your Family and Friends,
    by Cynthia Hart and Lisa Samson (2009)
  • To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come,
    by Bob Green (1998)
  • Legacy : A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Personal History,
    bt Lisa Spence (1997)

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