“It’s impossible not to love someone whose story you’ve heard.” This truth was spoken by David Isay of StoryCorps during his keynote at the Friday Opening Session of the RootsTech conference. The message of StoryCorps left a lasting impression on me as Isay beautifully illustrated how hearing stories of even strangers creates a connection.
Most of my ancestors are strangers to me – but through their stories I feel a deep connection to them.
“Every story matters.”
-David Isay, StoryCorps
Do you believe that every story matters? I sure do. Stories have always been my favorite part of family history. When I first really delved into family research, at age 16, my number one priority was to get a binder and fill it with all the family stories I could find.
Back to StoryCorps – with their StoryBooth and mobile app, they “instruct and inspire people to record each others’ stories in sound.” Their mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world” (StoryCorps About page). And what kind of story creates connections better than a love story?
Yesterday, StoryCorps shared some of their favorite audio clips of love stories. Love these!
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, so here’s a love story from my family! It’s about Ettie Belle Harris, my great grandmother, and her husband Charles Leslie Shults.
Ettie was only 17 when she got married.
It was 1924 in Lubbock, Texas, and this farmer’s daughter married a cowboy named Les Shults. In his later years, Les wrote his life story, recalling a memory from their honeymoon spent working on the ranch:
“We moved out to the south camp of the LFD Ranch. It was a fair size ranch, 540 thousand acres, 40,000 head of cattle and about a thousand head of buffalo and a couple thousand head of horses. The closest neighbor was fifty miles, except the ranch hands. My wife had a good little horse. It was gentle that she could ride. We had a pretty good honeymoon at that time on the ranch. I only had six pastures to ride. It was forty miles around each pasture. I had to ride each pasture once a week. One time, Ettie decided to go with me – we took off around this pasture. We rode two sides of it, which was about twenty miles. We got about five miles further on, we was only about five miles from camp and I still had another fifteen miles to go. She said, “Would it be alright with you if I turn off and right straight for the camp?” She finally made it to camp. We had a lot of fun while we was there.”
The fun of camping and riding horses together ended soon when the country headed into the Great Depression. Ettie’s children recalled the difficult times and the constant moving. Through 1931 they lived in Texas and found little success. Then they moved to Colorado in 1932. In 1933, they moved back to Texas and got a good crop in 1934. Through it all, Ettie never complained.
Ettie’s rheumatic heart began giving out in her early 40s. She passed away at age 47. Looking back on this time, Les wrote,
“In May, 1954, Ettie passed away. I almost went crazy. I went on a trip – turned the place over to C.H. I went back to Oklahoma and visited all my relatives, and tried to get my mind off things. It took quite a while.”
The love story of Ettie and Les is so sweet to me. Though their 30 year love story came to an abrupt end, I like to think that it lives on in the gentleness and kindness of Ettie’s children and grandchildren. I think my grandpa, Bob Shults, was very much like his mother – patient, uncomplaining, and loving.
Thinking of my great grandfather’s grief at Ettie’s passing reminds me of others who go through life after losing their loved one. I saw this message yesterday and thought it was so timely:
“This month, while we think of those we love, let us also think of those who are lonely.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!