Bottom-up history

In the movie “Bull Durham,” Susan Sarandon’s character Annie Savoy confides to Kevin Costner’s character Crash Davis the morning after their tryst that due to her love of horses, she must have been Catherine the Great in a previous life. Davis laughs and says how come when people bring up previous lives they are never Joe Schmo? To his point, history is made up of us normal, everyday people more so than the ones that get notoriety, whether it is deserved or undeserved. We live our lives the best we can and sometimes it matters not who the leaders are, unless they have done something very bad or very good.

I was watching PBS Newshour earlier in the week and I found a segment very moving and enlightening which I will call “Bottom-up history.” David Isay formed an organization called StoryCorps about ten years ago, whose purpose is to capture recorded interviews with everyday people. His organization began in Grand Central Station in New York, but moved onto several other cities. It now has a mobile unit that caravans across America. And, recently he has teamed with some innovators to craft cartoon stories than will be aired on PBS. A link to his Wikipedia page is below.*

His mission is to capture the bottom-up history and not the top down version that is taught in school or makes the headlines. The interviews are facilitated to tease out as much information as possible. In his view, we have a wealth of information in our older people or folks who have gone through amazing journeys that needs to be captured. I have recently seen similar efforts with young volunteers who help older people capture their histories.

Our blogging friend Z who lives in Ecuador captures these stories on a daily basis with her pictures and interactions. ** I often find myself gravitating toward the people she meets, their faces, their postures, their livelihoods and their interactions. This is where life exists. It is not the air-brushed, heavily made-up, well-dressed, and polished images we find online or in photo shoots. Life lives in the one who gets up everyday to feed their children, their animals and themselves and goes to work.

And, it has been that way for ages. For every Catherine the Great, there are millions of Joe Schmo’s. We Joes and Josephine’s are the ones who ran across open fields in Poland to escape Nazi shooters with our child holding onto our back. We are the ones that climbed walls to get out of danger when extremists came to our village. We are the ones who hid people in our basement to escape persecution. We are the ones who boycotted buses in Alabama and walked to work. We are the ones who journeyed to America with nothing but a suitcase, our family and our dreams for a better life.

And, we are the ones who with quiet dignity do jobs that we don’t love every day, then get up the next day and do them again. We are the ones who parent our children, sometimes without a partner, and then work a full-time job or several part-time ones to make ends meet. We are the ones who forego taking our medicine, so a child can be clothed and fed or maybe get that used musical instrument, soccer shoes or ballet tutu.

Hero, star and superstar are words that are thrown around much too often. Very few people who are given that term are truly worthy of the label. To me, the real heroes of the world go about their business in quiet fashion. They are the unsung heroes, who I have only touched on above. They are the bottom-up history of the world. Let’s find out more from them, while we can. Talk to a relative, friend or someone who interests you and learn more about how they arrived to this point. Your ancestry is in the stories, not the lineage.

Have a peaceful rest of your year and best wishes for 2015.

* Here is the link:

** Here is a link to Z’s blog:



15 thoughts on “Bottom-up history

    • Thanks. I shared your line about with someone who is interested. I said a friend told me when you find yourself spending more time with the dead than the living, you need to take a break. Good advice. Best wishes, BTG

  1. We just watched Bull Durham for the umpteenth time a few nights back. As much as I might like to believe I was a king in some former life, chances are that I was just a working mutt trying to get by.

    And you’re completely right–the history is really in the common man, and not the glossies we read today. This is particularly true when some of our politicians are working so hard to sanitize our history books, to make them read more like wish books than history books.

    And I really like your reference to “Z’s” work. I couldn’t agree more, particularly her stories of her neighbors and friends, or of the land and ocean around her.

    Great post, and have a wonderful new year.

    • Many thanks my friend. I like your quote about “more like wish books than history books.” True words. You cannot write a real history without your slip showing from time to time. The greater stories in our history are about different peoples getting along after they realized the converse did not work.

    • I like your phrasing. I have this imagery of weaving a basket or a textile as old families did. Plus it is a great time to ask questions of your elders or returning soldiers, travelers. Thanks for sharing.

      • This past Thanksgiving, 10+ stories were shared after the dinner party, oh the treasure, character quality, our countries depression days, issues to solve and my parents solutions. 35 of the 50 that attended had not really known my parents doing the best they could with available resources. I think my sister is considering writing a book.

  2. Note to Readers: My wife and I visited one of her deceased mother’s two living siblings. Among several anecdotes, my wife’s aunt offered her Daddy was so sweet on her mother that he went out to the garden every morning and returned with a rose which he would give her to put in the bun she would wear in her hair. If he was mad at her, he would still get the flower, but lay it on the radio. We thought this was poignant.

  3. Note to Readers: I was thinking about some of the similarities between my wife and my families. Largely, we are of Scots-Irish Heritage, with some German thrown in on my wife’s father side. The Scots-Irish settled our region, with some moving into the mountain areas and venturing south (my mother and wife’s mother family) with others staying more coastal and venturing south (my father’s). My father-in-law is the exception having grown up in an urban area where he delivered both German and English papers in Detroit.

    With three families growing up on farms, there are plenty of similar stories that can be told. My Dad had to feed the hogs, so he named them after movie stars – Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Mae West, etc. My wife’s family also had stories where the kids named the chickens and hogs. If you grew up on a farm, you know these stories do not end well for the named “pets.”

    • I appreciate your comments, correct, nothing like the farm for stories to share.
      From what I can find I’m in the seventh generation- from in or near Basil Switzerland, but not in the first wave of settlers on the plains. 1861 public transportation to Junction City Kansas, Rivers, etc. upstream from there. Cow , plow, and a frau, break ground and plan carefully to make it through the first season.

  4. Note to Readers: While visiting my mom, she shared the story that her paternal grandmother had a habit of moving furniture in the middle of the night. So, when my mom first visited as a child with her sister, she was told by her grandfather not to be concerned if they heard noises in the night. You can’t make this stuff up.

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