In fast-paced world, take a break for memories

In sharing the historical significance of World War I from my book, “My Dear Jen” at the Fredonia Farm Festival last weekend surprisingly turned into an interesting study of people.

The book is about my father in the Fighting 69th Irish Division, 165th Rainbow Division. It was co-authored with my son, Commander George H. Burns III, Coast Guard, ret.,

I discovered three types of people at the event. The first type would just walk by without looking. The second type would turn their head and glance. The third type would stop at the table with interest at what you have to sell.

Actually, I try to engage people who walk by, especially older men who wear a military cap saying, “My father was in World War I,” or draw their attention to a large photo of my mother, Jen, by saying, “I would like you to meet my mother in 1908. She lived to be 100 years old.” Then I pick up my book and show a photo of her at that age. I explain that my mother saved all the letters that my father wrote to her from France, many while laying in a trench.

As I hand them the book I ask them to turn to page 145. This is the letter he wrote at the front on Nov. 11, 1918, the first Armistice Day when he witnessed the German surrender.

Most personally rewarding for me was when I asked if they had written their family history. I remarked that in a century or more from now no one will remember them or their family.

Their stories are history for those who follow. The only way to be remembered is by the written word.

Some said it was a good idea and would begin to write. I suggested they start as far back as they could remember as a child and go from there and it would grow like a web including family and events.

Since State University of New York at Fredonia students have returned for another year, there were small groups walking happily by chatting and laughing. I would call them over saying I had a story to tell.

I was from Long Island and attended college here, graduating in 1953. There are four things – at least – that have changed. First, there was no tuition. Second, we had to sign in and out with the house mother and had one 11 o’clock a month. Third, girls were in one place and boys in another. Fourth, textbooks were $3. Their reaction, in one word: “WHHHATT?”

Rosamond Gillespie Burns is a Dunkirk resident and former OBSERVER columnist.