“Let me tell you about the time. ...”


Some of the best family stories start this way. The time when my grandmother was so excited to go to prom with the president of her high school class, but it was during the Great Depression. She had the dress but couldn’t afford the shoes. Her family made it happen.


The time my mother discovered that for years her grandmother, my great-grandmother, had been turning back the kitchen timer clock so that my mom would practice the piano longer.


The time — actually, years — when I told my mother that my real mother was named Alice and this make-believe mother was much nicer.


Three stories of women coming of age. Three stories preserved in a book my mom gave me on my 25th birthday called “To My Daughter, With Love: A Mother’s Memory Book.”


Family stories are meant to be collected, to be shared, and yet they slip away so easily. I’d love to be able to ask my grandmother about that prom dress: What was it made of, what color was it, and what did it look like? Oh, and did she kiss this boy on prom night, or was that not done?


This Mother’s Day weekend, think about the stories you’d like to tell and the stories you’d like to collect from your relatives.


Search your online book retailer under “journal,” “family” and “stories” and you’ll find books you can write in to help you get started: “An Oral History: Preserve Your Family’s Story,” “Story of My Life,” “The Book of Me,” “Mom, I Want to Hear Your Story,” and “A Lifetime of Memories” are just a few. All of them can be filled out by you after asking your relatives questions, or your relatives could fill them out themselves.


A good family journal asks for more than just dates of births and locations. It asks for personal memories. My great-grandchildren will want to know what life was like for my daughter growing up during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, just like I want to know what life was like for my grandmother growing up in the Great Depression. My grandchildren will want to know about my childhood listening to Duran Duran and Culture Club, just like my mom grew up listening to Elvis Presley and Pat Boone.


Details make the stories richer, for sure.


Rutger Bruining remembers growing up in the Netherlands and spending time with his grandparents. His grandfather would tell him about World War II and leading a small resistance group in the Netherlands. He talked about how he met his wife, and how he traveled around the Caribbean.


“The stories he told faded so quickly,” Bruining says. “Why don’t we record the stories for the people we care about?”


Bruining started Story Terrace, a service that matches people with a writer to turn the story of their lives into a book.


During the coronavirus pandemic, people have had a renewed interest in telling their stories, he says. Story Terrace has opened its website, storyterrace.com, to be a free portal. You can begin to tell your story using a questionnaire.


Questions include: When you were growing up, how did you love to spend your time? In what ways are you most like your parents? Who was your best friend growing up, and how did you pass the time together? What is the most important life lesson you learned in school?


These questions invite stories to be told. You can download your answers and create your own story, or you can start the process of commissioning a writer to turn your story into a book. The books start at $1,900, and Bruining has seen people do them for landmark birthdays and anniversaries, but also just because they’ve always wanted to.


Most people take about three to six months to have their book written. The difference between writing your own and having someone else write it for you is that you have a person taking a larger view of your life and finding the interesting events and moments. They make it coherent and less rambling.


What Bruining’s learned from five years of Story Terrace and reading people’s books: “Everyone has a fascinating life,” he says.