Category Archives: Letters to My Children

Letters to My Children – Star Wars

Letters to My ChildrenThis is an occasional series in which I recollect my own memories and attempt to share them with my children (or whomever will listen!). For more information about the purpose and scope of this series, read my introductory post.

November 2015

Dear Sea Turtle and Penguin,

It is a cloudy and wet Saturday. In many ways, the rain is a boon that we are all enjoying as it has been dry for months. California is experiencing a drought of epic proportions. Autumn has finally begun in Northern California. The temperature is dropping and we have turned our clocks back for the winter. When you are older, you may remember the years of the drought. But this weekend, as we are stuck inside, between laundry, grocery shopping, and other chores, we watched two of the original Star Wars movies: Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back. We are just over a month away from the release of the newest chapter in the franchise – The Force Awakens. But today, as we engaged in our typical banter over unrealistic plot points, we discussed which characters were puppets (Yoda), inhabited by dwarves (Jawas/R2D2), or giants (Chewbacca). I lectured over the CGI effects which were added into the digitally re-mastered versions from the 1990s. Sea Turtle, you are much like me in my love of fantasy books and films/shows, but you have never bought into the Star Wars hype. I feel that I have failed in passing on my nerdy ways to you in this respect. Penguin, I love that you are enjoying the Star Wars universe. Your Uncle J was almost your age when the first Star Wars movie came out in 1977 so it is wonderful to watch your joyful energy as you take in the stories.

Today, in 2015, the Stars Wars universe is almost 40 years old. It is already a firmly established part of popular culture. But I remember a world where Star Wars did not exist, even for a brief time. Up until then, science fiction shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who had limited special effects. We laugh at how pathetic those special effects seem today. Star Wars was a whole new ball game in 1977. People lined up around the corner of movie theatres to see the next showing. They also went back, again and again.

The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980. Of the three original Star Wars films, I think this one is my favorite. There was a lot of anticipation in the three years between the first two movies, but even more so between the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The last film was released in 1983. In the 1990s, George Lucas digitally re-mastered the three films, adding CGI effects that had not been possible only a decade or two previously. Your dad and I went to see these “new” old films together, as well as, the three new movies that comprised the prequel trilogy: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. I shall refrain from giving my opinion on these three movies.

David with Deborah, circa 1978, Mt. Wachusett

David with Deborah, circa 1978, Mt. Wachusett

Star Wars became part of popular culture and it hasn’t really ever gone away. Uncle J and I had the soundtrack to the movie which we played over and over again. Our favorite piece was the background music for the cantina in Mos Eisley. We loved to listen to it on the record player. We owned Star Wars themed t-shirts, toys, sheets, legos and so on. Even today we have Star Wars items around the house from Han Solo (frozen in carbonite) ice cube trays to the Darth Vader mask and light saber toys. And, of course, we have all the movies in our DVD library. For Christmas this year, I am fairly certain there will be at least one Star Wars themed present.

Memory is a funny thing. When the first Star Wars movie came out in 1977, many of the big fast food chains sold drinking glasses. They had colorful decals on the outside with cartoons or other popular characters. In July 1977, a few weeks after Star Wars was released, McDonald’s was investigated by the FDA for having too much lead in the decals on their glasses. Uncle J and I owned several of these glasses and they were thrown away as a precaution. We loved those glasses and like typical children we were devastated. In my mind, those glasses were Star Wars themed. However, after examining several old newspapers, it does not seem possible that the glasses were Star Wars after all. Burger King won the bidding for the Star Wars franchise and began selling glasses in 1980.

McDonald's glasses

The Berkshire Eagle, 9 July 1977, p. 1, col. 1-2. Image courtesy of

I am looking forward to seeing the new movie in a few weeks. The anticipation for this movie is incredible, especially after seeing many of the trailers over the last few months. The original stars (Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford) will have parts in the new movie and that brings back quite the feeling of nostalgia of a time long, long ago…

I hope you enjoy the new movie,

Genealogy Tip:

When interviewing a family member, bear in mind that memories are fallible. Record what they remember, but do some research. Can their memories be backed up with contemporary sources? Until I tried to find evidence about the glasses that were thrown away in 1977, I firmly believed that they were Star Wars themed. Now, I’m not so sure….

©2015 Deborah Sweeney
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Letters to My Children

Letters to My ChildrenAs a genealogist, I spend copious amounts of time tracking down long dead ancestors to glean vital clues about their lives. But, what if I had a time machine? Like most people, I would jump at the chance to go back and find out everything I possibly could. One of the first things any new researcher should do when embarking on their genealogical quest is to interview living family members. Many of us regret that we didn’t ask those questions or care about listening to the family stories until after those family members are gone.

But what if you could do something today to help the future generations of researchers? This is a topic which has been swirling around in my head for awhile now. I have two school-aged children, and while I occasionally bore them with stories of my life, research shows that children who know their family’s stories are better adjusted and able to deal with challenges and adversity. A few years ago, I participated in a project called the Book of Me. Participants were given a weekly prompt to use to write about themselves. While I wrote quite faithfully at the beginning of the project, I lost interest. Perhaps the topics were too contrived. I cannot say for sure. I think the project has a lot of potential (and I recommend it to anyone who wants a way to record their story). I gained several friendships with fellow genealogists while I was participating. If you are interested in reading some of my Book of Me posts, you can find them archived under the My Ancestors tab at the top of the page.

So, how DO I go about writing my stories, beyond the standard genealogical birth-marriage-death vital statistics? I think the answer to the question is different for everyone. I have always been in awe of my father, diligently writing his life down in his journal everyday (a habit which he acquired in the weeks after my birth). I have attempted to keep a journal at various times in my life, but it is not a habit that I have found addicting. I have been thinking of solutions to this dilemma. How do I record ME for my descendants and future generations? Transcribing daily letters for the past three years has made a mark upon my psyche. In the back of my mind, I have been keeping a notebook of ideas of things and events from my life that I would like to write down. Potential topics range from foods that I ate as a child to the social history of events that I lived through.

I have tentatively settled on the format of writing letters to my children. Each letter will focus on a different topic. Posts may be sporadic as the urge to write comes over me. Topics will definitely not be chronological, and may jump around on my timeline. To protect as much as possible the identities of my children, they will known as Sea Turtle and Penguin, animals which they love and have been affectionately nicknamed. While these posts are mainly for myself and my children, I hope, dear readers, that you enjoy reading about my life. Stay tuned for my first letter!

©2015 Deborah Sweeney
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