This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, February 2, 2000

February 2, 2000 - Family History Programs

It is our oldest social structure. It predates religion. It has survived the concerted attacks of various political experiments. It is the family -- father, mother, and children -- and it endures, at least in part, because it is wired right into our DNA.

In the late 1950s Chinese communists, in the name of good Maoist doctrine, reorganized villages to strengthen the hold of the Party. Fathers and sons went to one barracks. Mothers and daughters went to another. The drop in productivity on these collective farms was so precipitous -- and the subsequent famine so severe -- that party officials allowed families to return to their homes. The experiment was not repeated.

But while the nuclear family is strong enough to resist such heavy-handedness, some would argue that it hasn't fared so well against the seductions of technology. In the pre-industrial age, families worked beside one another. Even in the Victorian era, family members came together in the parlor to read aloud to one another, to play card and board games, to make music, to talk to one another.

To be sure, part of this was sheer necessity. The sun went down, and the horses were stabled for the night. Short of conversation and innocent recreation, there really wasn't much else to do.

But now even when we gather in our "family rooms" we tend to sit in front of the passive entertainment of television. When was the last time you read aloud to your spouse, or had your child read aloud to you?

The odds are good that there's more than one TV in your house. When was the last time you looked up and realized some members of your family were watching TV in one room, some in another? Or perhaps every one in the family was occupied with some other device -- telephone, computer, CD player, etc. But even if your family members were talking to somebody, they probably weren't talking to each other.

I'm not knocking technology. Give me the automobile and the indoor toilet over the horse and outhouse any day, particularly in bad weather.

But while statistics indicate that there's plenty of good news about American families these days (fewer divorces, for one), there's plenty of bad news, too. If you're interested in making your own family stronger, you probably have to put some time and attention into it.

At any rate, I was in a receptive frame of mind when I got a visit from some long time library friends. Linda Brimhall and Laura Beauchamp came to me with a proposal for a couple of programs. They both revolve around collecting and preserving family history. This strikes me as a brilliant response to the increasingly isolated family life of most of us.

The first program -- "From Story to Family History" -- will be held at the Highlands Ranch Library, February 13, from 3 to 5 p.m. There will be light refreshments. Using skits and engaging speakers, the program will focus on how to get older members of the family to start talking about their memories, then how to get the history organized.

A week later, February 20, we'll move to the Parker Library (also from 3-5 in the afternoon). This time the focus will be on family heirlooms. The title for this one is "Grandpa's Mustache Wax." All families pass mysterious objects from one generation to another. Too often stashed in dark corners of basements, garages, and attics, these items can and should be dragged into the light.

The programs are co-sponsored by the library and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. But there won't be any proselytizing (and no, I'm not a Mormon). Just as no nation or political party has a monopoly on "family values," neither does any religion. Exploring our family history is a worthwhile task for all of us, the sort of activity that aids in the important process of defining what families, and the people in them, hold most dear.

If you'd like some ideas about how to get started, I hope you'll join us. And bring the family.

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