The Questions That Matter

Before the holiday parties end, the team from Westport’s The Legacy Project USA have some ideas to get your family and friends talking — and learn things you may never have thought to ask.

The holidays provide the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends and family members, rehashing the year, celebrating the accomplishments and milestones, but it also may be the perfect time to dig deeper and ask some questions that’ll really get people talking.

Rozanne Gates and Suzanne Sheridan, the duo behind The Legacy Project USA, spend their days capturing the life stories of people, families, and businesses and recording them for audio CD’s, video DVD’s, photo documentary books, and authored books to share with future generations. Gates and Sheridan have some ideas to help you get the stories flowing.

1. What are the influences and the qualities that your parents passed on to you?
“I put out that question to everyone and asked them to think about it,” Gates said. “Two-and-a-half hours later we were still talking. It was incredible.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to verbalize that,” Sheridan said. “You learn some of the most fascinating things.”
From the way that a parent’s vices affected their children to the values that they held through to adulthood — the best thing about this question may be just about how many directions it can take.
“They went absolutely everywhere with it,” Sheridan said. “You never know what’s going to come out of a 90-year-old’s mouth.”

2. What was the most memorable meal that your mother cooked? Not only the basics of what it was, but the details: memories of tastes, eating, and time spent in the kitchen. Bonus points if you can enter 2015 with copies of family recipes you never knew existed.
“Everyone has that thing they remember,” Sheridan said. “I can still taste my mother’s soup.”

3. What do you remember about growing up?
“What was being a child like for you?” Gates said. “It’s my belief that our past absolutely defines us.”
“Well, it doesn’t have to,” Sheridan added.
Childhood friends are another facet of this question, are older relatives still in touch with any of their friends from childhood? What were they like?

4. What was your first car?
“This always gets the men talking,” Gates said. “For some reason, cars are equated with dating.”
And whether the first car that they drove was good, bad, or falling apart, it’s sure to get the conversations going.
“You were the guy with the great car or you were the loser,” Sheridan laughed.

5. What was the address of the house where you grew up?
“That always gets a smile, it’s a good place to start,” Gates said. “It conjures up that image of home.”
Gates takes it one step further and suggests just going around the table and asking the group gathered if they can name the addresses of all of the places they have lived.

“We had one person who made a list, two full pages of addresses,” Sheridan said.

When you have older family members in attendance, asking the questions can become a way to honor their stories and give them the platform to share their experiences.”Our society shuts them down,” Sheridan said. “They’re history on legs.Rozie makes everyone feel so comfortable, its not the question, it’s the attitude that you bring to it.”

“I live for their answers,” Gates echoed.

Beyond recording stories from a family’s past, in this season of parties, being ready to ask questions can be the start of new friendships.”I was at a party and I went and sat down on the couch, I was the only one there until I was joined by another person, then another,” Gates said. “We started asking each other questions, the who, what, where, why questions to get to know each other, soon people started coming over — “You look like you’re having a lot of fun!” One of the ladies, we had never met before, but by the end we were inviting her over for coffee.”

So even if you don’t have the interviewing skills of the Legacy Project team, take a minute this holiday season to ask a question and really listen for the answer, who knows what you might dig up. “We learn so much,” Sheridan said. “You scratch the surface of a person and it’s about everything they’ve learned and how they’ve gotten to where they are.”

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