Category Archives: Story

Why Remember?

Johns Hopkins Hospital, circa 1954.

Jim took this picture when he was a 1st year medical student at Hopkins. A California guy raised in the shadow of the Sierras he loved the snow in the mountains but never had to slog through it to work until he landed at Hopkins.  A camera buff he enjoyed seeing the world transformed into black and white.

This morning snow is pelting down outside my window and I am thinking a lot of Jim, even more than usual.

Tomorrow is the 3rd Anniversary of Jim’s death. Its been rough lately  – – because you see he is not really dead for me. He is very much alive to me – and I intend to keep it that way through my stories.

Some days I forget to write checks to pay bills but I have vivid memories of most of the 57 years of days Jim and I shared starting with the first time I set eyes on him at St. Michael’s Catholic Church on N. Washington Street in Baltimore.

Maybe its my storyteller mind-side that keeps me remembering like I do.  And, you know something- -I am grateful for it. I have worked hard to hone the ability to retrieve times, places and people. Since I tell family stories memories are the “stuff” I work with.

Twenty years ago I attended my first five- day-out-of-town storytelling workshop which was led my favorite teacher, the incomparable Donald Davis. He started the first session with the instruction “take us somewhere we can’t go if YOU don’t take us.”  Donald’s direction was electrifying for me as I walked into my grandmother’s long-gone house.  Every step brought it more clearly into view. 2301 East Seventh Street, Charlotte, NC wasn’t gone after all.

On a trip to Fresno our daughter Robin and I sat in the car with Jim outside his favorite childhood home. Talking it through he brought the interior of that house to life for us without stirring from the car. He also pointed out the spot on the block where he ran his bike into an oncoming car when he was 11 years old. He laughed, “I was showing off for a girl coming down the street”. He was tossed in the air, hit the hood of the car and landed in the street. His brother Tom told me, ” I saw it. We thought he was dead.” Lucky and  foolish yes, fortunately not dead.

An African folk tale, The Cow Tail Switch is a golden nugget for me. In the story five sons find their father’s bones in the jungle where he was killed by a wild animal when he was hunting. They conjure him back to life. The story ends with the wisdom, “no one is truly dead as long as people tell his story.” 

I came to storytelling through Genealogy and that “raising of the dead”, at least on a chart, has always been the heart of my mission. When my kids were not interested in my charts I turned to storytelling to breathe  life into those names and dates I had worked so hard to find.

And what about this?

At this time in my life I want to take my children and their children back through time to know Jim and me over the years. Seems to me that is a good thing for me to be doing. I have been known to say, “Your Story is Your Legacy.” Now is the time to do more than talk about it —

Christmas-es Past

A Family Christmas Story – 2: At the beginning

 Christmas Season 2014:
Surprised today  when I “googled” Bargain Town USA – Brooklyn – 1957 and this post of mine was at the head of the Google selections. That seemed like a “sign” to re-remember this one again – so here it is.
Williamsburg Wreath, photo by e. schoettler

Christmas 2013

Continuing the review of blogs I have written about celebrating Christmas in our family.

Jim loved Christmas. He was raised in a large family in California surrounded by extended families in the area so he loved to celebrate – even when we were living so far from either family.

I, on the other hand, never really liked Christmas. Some of my childhood holidays are spiced with love and laughter and I prize those memories but many other are best forgotten.  My father was an alcoholic and the Christmas Holidays triggered unhappy memories for him and tension and unhappiness for the rest of us.
Jim’s love of the Season went a long way to teach me that Christmas is a time to be happy.

That’s one reason I like to look back on our Christmas-es together

Blog From December 2008

Christmas 1957
682 Argyle Road, Brooklyn New York.

We moved to Brooklyn in July 1957 when Jim graduated from medical school and was assigned to Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn for his internship.

Christmas 1957

1957 was our first Christmas on-our-own. Jim and I were married December 30, 1955 and Jim came to Charlotte for that Christmas with my family. The next year Jimmy was one month old and we went to Charlotte for the holidays and for Jimmy’s Baptism at Assumption Catholic Church, where Jim and I were married the year before.

Our first Christmas ornaments purchase at Bargaintown USA, Brooklyn, NY, 1957

We still have and prize a few of the fragile glass ornaments that we bought at Bargaintown USA – one of the pioneer warehouse-type operations in Brooklyn. The balls are decorated with silver glitter.

Christmas Ornament, circa 1957, purchased from Bargain Town USA,  Brooklyn, NY

What was bright and shiny for years is now darkly tarnished by 50 years of being wrapped and un-wrapped with newspaper scraps.

In those days an intern’s salary was laughable so we planned a very spare Christmas.

The single interns took the duty on Christmas so the married guys could spend the day with their families. It was a swap. Married guys worked New Years Eve. I was grateful and Jim would have hated missing being there for Jimmy’s first Santa.

Santa brought Jimmy the noisy push toy he is holding and a classic small wagon of colored wooden blocks. By the time he had opened all the gifts for him sent from Califoria and North Carolina he was over-whelmed. Stopping only long enough to take a bite of the candy he found in his stocking. He was a happy kid, laughing and grinning all day.

We went to mid-morning Mass at St. Rose of Lima Church about a mile away and then drove over to the hospital for a sumptious traditional dinner which we could not have afforded at home and I had no clue how to cook.

Jim says he thinks we drove to Manhattan after eating, parked the car, took out the stroller for Jimmy and walked down Fifth Avenue to see the animated windows at Saks and then take in the monumental tree at Rockefeller Center.

Back to 2013

Storytelling has taught me to watch for the ways life circles back on itself when I work on my personal stories.

Jim and I left Brooklyn in 1958 and did not live in New York again. However after we moved to Washington, DC area in 1964 we went back frequently and usually at Christmas.

In the late 1960s Jim entered training as a Psychoanalyist at the Washington Psychoanalytic School and every December Candidates attended the American Psychoanalytic Society Meeting in New York City at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. That meeting was always scheduled the weekend before Christmas – not convenient true, but that was a magic time to be in New York. And at the Waldorf – Astoria Hotel with all its lavish Christmas Decorations. On Park Avenue we were a quick walk from St Patrick’s Cathedral, Saks Fifth Avenue and Rockefeller Center.
Not to mention access to all the wonderful museums in NYC.

Several Christmases in the 1970s we took Jimmy and Karen and Robin with us so that we could all share the magic – visit the Metropolitan Museum, see a few plays and take in all the sights of Manhattan.

Then one Christmas in the 1990s all our East Coast family which now included our grand-daughters
took the train and spent a Christmas week-end at the Waldorf -Astoria Hotel where we enjoyed the magic of New York City: Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Macy’s Santa Village and Santa Claus.

I am so grateful it is all part of our family’s Christmas stories. Just writing this down prompts me to  remember more and more and know that I will be looking for pictrures later today to see what stories the others remember when we sit down for supper Christmas Eve.

Brierly Road Christmas
Telling the stories of our family stories of Christmas
is the best way to remember and honor Jim and celebrate all he was to us.
Who are you remembering during this Holiday Season?
Back to 2014 –
We are remembering Jim and missing him as much as ever. I doubt that will ever change.
But it feels particularly strong today. Jim’s brother Tom passed away yesterday. Thursday – two days from now I will be flying to California to join the Schoettler family for his funeral.
I can start the trip remembering the wonderful memories of Jim and Tom and all their family –

Letters are an Important Link

Gus Keasler Letter Sig 2

Finding old letters can add richness to family stories.

There was so much to love about a letter I found at the DAR library 20 years ago  that I  prize it. There is advice and inspiration for stories. I quote it to make the point that asking questions of our elders is essential to learning the history of our families.

In 1893 when Mr. James Parks answers his grand-daughter’s questions about their family history he explains that he did not ask questions when he was young so he knows little about them.

He explains that when he was young he cared more “about fish hooks and pocket knives” than he did about family stories and “when I did want to know, my grandfather had fallen into a foolish state and could tell me nothing.”  So he explains why he could tell her very little about their history.

And, he counsels her to value the people she finds.

” You will see that there were no great ones among our ancestors. They were all in the common walks of life, no blue-blooded aristocracy, but just upright, high-minded honorable men and women. If there were no”great ones” among them, there were none of who we were ashamed.

September 9, 1893 (signed) James Parks


Holding Hands

Holding Hands

Sitting my parked car listening to Fifties on 5 on Sirius XM I watched a couple walk by.  When I noticed that they were holding hands my hands felt empty. I lifted a pen and wrote this poem.

Jim in a Composition 1 Composition with Jim, e.schoettler, 1979

I saw a couple holding hands as they walked down the street

imagining the warm feeling  in their hands

made me miss the connection

I’ve lost touch with Jim


We used to hold hands

he would take hold of mine

or I would reach out and touch him

his leg or arms or hand  –

I miss that connection.


When we were dating

I would wait

anticipating his touch

on my  hand or my arm

or his putting his arms around me.


As the months and years went on

I reached out for him

no longer shy

just wanting to feel him near me.


The world feels empty without that

I can’t touch him

he’s not here

I reach for him but

he has  gone


Death is so cruel.

it makes you understand

the importance of the things you took for granted.


Bethesda Women on You Tube on TEDx

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It wasn’t exactly on my ‘bucket list” but having a chance to tape a TEDx Talk for the internet has been high on my list of things I wished for. Then what do you know  – – Jane O. Smith organizer of TEDxBethesdaWomen invited me to be one of twelve women who were giving talks in Bethesda in December. Our videos went LIVE on You Tube this week.

You are invited to hear “Lively, spirited and sassy”  women share ideas and wisdom on a wide range of topics. The day we filmed there was a full house at Imagination Stage, Bethesda, MD. The audience was bubbling with enthusiastic energy that fostered each one of us to reach for our “gold”.

Jane O. Smith and her committee invited a very diverse group of speakers: a storyteller, the president of a community college, an international newscaster, an internet business guru, several others from business, a young woman who has plans to provide basic personal supplies for women in Africa and 6 others. It was a rich day listening to “talks” filled with insights, wisdom and intrigue.

The title of my talk is “Your Story is Your Legacy” – with the underlying theme that we all have stories to tell.  Since I am a storyteller I took this opportunity  to talk about my ideas on the importance of family and personal stories and to encourage folks to tell their story as a way to be remembered.

This link takes you to all the videos:
Hope you will listen and enjoy!

A Precious Find on Our Anniversary

Yesterday when I was looking for something in the closet in the guest room I opened a large plastic file box and found a treasure trove of memories. There are letters between Jim and me, souvenirs from our honeymoon and this precious date-book.

January to December 1955.

I remembered picking it up from a basket of “freebies” on the counter in the Manhattan Drug Store across the street from the Emergency Room entrance at Johns Hopkins Hospital in December 1954. In those days a calendar of the coming year was a familiar give-away.

Free was important to me and as I look through these months and see how often I was babysitting I am reminded of how grateful I was for those casual jobs. And I recognize the names – families of residents and interns – the gifted guys in the white suits I was so in awe of when I was working on the wards.

There is nothing like an old calendar to bring memories flooding back. As I read through these pages I love watching the progression of the relationship between Jim and me. Even though the details are not noted I remember them. The excitement and innocence of our courtship time, the evenings of meeting Jim in the Doctors Cafeteria in the hospital after 10 PM when he would take a break from “the books” in a study room somewhere in the backrooms of the small libraries throughout the hospital for an hour with me. A few names of casual dates with Jim’s classmates appear until he gave me his fraternity pin on May 16 th –

He proposed on July 9th.

Those were sweet days. I remember  pretty accurately how all this happened – but I am grateful to see it in writing. Confirming my memories.

Lovely and touching to find this on our Anniversary, Yes, it was all real. Not a dream. We were young and in love. And looking forward to spending our lives together.

And we did!

To celebrate and acknowledge today – – our 58th wedding anniversary – my family took me out for dinner.
When I told them about finding this calendar they were interested in hearing a few stories about those days – making me promise to take care of it. “We want to have it, Mom.” Well, they can have it – but not yet,

I still have work to do with all these “finds”. Re-reading all the letters – many from Jim to me and me to him.  As well as quite a collection of other letters – from my parents and grand-parents writing to a young girl who has just moved 12 hours away from home for school and then marries. Puts me in several other contexts – – rich in the stuff of stories. Also some interesting family papers which document who we have been and what we have done.

Yes, stories to tell – and another goal for my 2014 list –
Organize, scan and copy – the “finds” in the box.
Make an album.

Jim had an impulse for recording family history. I feel him nudging me.
Keep the history.
Tell the story.

It is our legacy for our family!

Memories and Wreaths to Stories

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More than a dozen years ago my husband Jim and I bought into a TimeShare in Williamsburg and since then have spent time there during different seasons. Christmas is my favorite time to visit Williamsburg. The historic town is especially picturesque when there is a dusting of snow to soften all the edges and blur time.

In 2005 all our family gathered in Williamsburg for ten days to celebrate Christmas and our 50th Wedding Anniversary. It was a special time in a special place. Many sweet memories –

Memories, as sweet as they are, have a slightly bittersweet edge for me with out Jim.  I am learning to face into them so that I do not lose the sweetness because I am afraid of the sharp prick of grief. I have realized that cost is too high.

I will schedule another visit to Williamsburg so that I can embrace that special place and the lovely memories it holds for me.

I particularly love the wreaths made from fresh materials that decorate the windows and doors in the historic district. They are sweetly fragrant and often surprising.  Starting today I will post pictures from my collection of wreath photos.

There is a connection between the photos of the wreaths and the memories of lovely moments in Williamsburg – they perserve something prescious and I can revisit them forever.

And make stories from them.

The Memoir Urge



The first time I wrote a personal story I was in the 7th grade when the teacher gave a class assignment to write about our family.

I wrote about my Daddy – a crazy, funny story about some of his eccentric antics. I read it to the class and when my classmates laughed uproariously I was hooked.

I have explored telling my story in many forms.

Collage is one – but before that – I worked on albums.

In the 1970s one of the new modes of expression for women artists was autobiograpy in an effort to validate the lifes of ordinary women. Artist Miriam Schapiro used handmade articles made by anonymous women in her art work and many other women artists included photographs, bits of biography and momentos. Once when Miriam was visiting DC, she and I made a field trip to Thieves Market, a huge flea market under a tin roof which was a bit south of Alexandria on Hwy 1. That afternoon Mimi introduced me to the beauty and charm of old scrap books as examples of anonymous women’s art work and I have been collecting them ever since. As well as making many of my own.

My first auto-biographical album was exhibited at the Washington Women’s Art Center in 1975. I used old and new family photographs to tell a story which connected similar images of the past and the present. Something I still do in my storytelling – and in writing this blog. Connecting the threads of the story, past and present, as a way of weaving my life together.

In 1994 when my father died, I made a biographical album for his life and housed it in an old leather salesman’s catalog notebook that he had used for years and given to me. My thought was – his life story within a bit of his life. The Album was exhibited at Gallery 10, Washington, DC in 1996 in Life After Life, an exhibition organized by artist Claudia Vess.

In 2003 Lucy Blankstein and I created videos from family photographs to tell a story from each of our families for Embedded Memories:Digital Recall, our two-person exhibition at Gallery 10, Washington, DC and at the DC Art-o-Matic. In Family Album,a video I made for that exhibition,  I combine words and music with the photographs to remember my grandmother and my great-mother by using my mother’s words to tell a bit of their stories.

I hope you will leave a comment and share ways you are using to capture and preserve your family stories and — most importantly TELL them.

Food Prompts Memories That Can Lead to Stories

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A dish of bright green asparagus is the spark for memories that could or will become a story. It is certainly a bit of memoir remembering putting me back in to several worlds.

I buy and cook asparagus often. Its easy, dresses up a meal and I love it.

I am so known to love asparagus, especially the slender, baby spears, that Jim’s mother used to stock the refrigerator with the bright green bundles and have it waiting for me on our visits to California. I have eaten it for breakfast, lunch and supper. Asparagus as a side with scrambled eggs – ambrosia.

Growing up Mama bought canned asparagus at the Big Star on Central Avenue when she wanted to dress up a special meal – you know, the fat, muddy green, soggy spears. She would put them on a platter with a huge dollop of creamy Duke’s mayonnaise – maybe some red tomato slices -as a side dish. Even then I liked them – mostly because they were supposed to be a special treat.

I don’t remember the exact time or place I discovered fresh cooked asparagus but after that moment there was no going back.

It might have been about the time I discovered that green beans did not have to be cooked with fat-back until they were black – although that is the way I like them best and will feast until I am full on the memories of my grandmother’s house on East Seventh Street.

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Do you like the picture? Here is the recipe. Thanks to



Asparagus Recipe

  • Cook time: 10 minutes


  • 1 bunch of medium sized asparagus, about 1 lb
  • 2 Tbsp of the most exquisite extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest – freshly grated lemon rind
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 Prepare the asparagus by rinsing them thoroughly, break off any tough, white bottoms and discard. Cut into 1 to 2 inch sections, slicing the asparagus at a slight diagonal.

2 Fill a medium sized saucepan half way with water, bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and reduce heat slightly to a simmer. Parboil the asparagus for exactly 2 minutes. Drain the hot water. While the asparagus are still hot, toss them in a bowl with the olive oil, Parmesan, and lemon rind. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or room temperature.

Note that when you are working with so few ingredients, it’s important to make sure they are of the highest quality.

Yield: Serves 4.


Genealogy and my storytelling

Gus Keasler Letter Sig 2

My passion for storytelling is linked to my passion for genealogy. I find stories in genealogy.

Letters particularly bring anyone reading them close to those long ago and the letters tell stories.

Parks is one of my mother’s family lines. Did we know this? No. Did she know this? No to that too. Its amazing how the shade from your family tree begins to spread when you start tracing your families.

On one of my forays to the DAR Library looking for ancestors I found this letter from James Parks which says so much about how and why family history slips away.

More than 100 years ago on September 9, 1893 James Parks sat down to write this letter to his Granddaughter:
My dear granddaughter,
You desire me to
write out a history of our family, I regret that I know so little compared with perhaps what I might have learned from my grandfather. But the truth is that at the time when he was capable of affording me information, I was more interested in pocket knives, fish hooks, and pop guns than in family history, and when I arrived at an age when history of my family would have been more interesting, my Grandfather had fallen into a childish stage and was incapable of giving such information about anything of a worldly nature.”

What else is there to say. I am grateful for finding this letter – James Parks encourages me on. Letters put you close to the author and I felt I met him when I found this. We are not direct descendants of James Parks – but are collaterally related. Coming EARLY as Mama’s families did – the ties are tightly woven.