Jack Kamen was born in 1913 above his father's harness shop in Brownsville, a Yiddish-speaking section of Brooklyn. He brings that lost world to life in this humorous, heartwarming, historical collection of family stories with universal appeal.
Jack bares all as he reveals secrets of the Enchanted Outhouse, the Mysterious Yeshiva Fire, and the Great Thanksgiving Fraud.
Learn why Jack was in the Oval Office one month and jail the next ...why Uncle Youssel sold his soul ...and how Jack saved his hide when the Manhater's Club discovered him eavesdropping.
Jack's greatest secret--his formula for health, happiness, and longevity--is hidden in every story. It's his attitude, and it's contagious.
Pass it on.
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What are Heirloom Stories?
Heirloom Stories are written the way you talk - or wish you did. One of the nice things about written stories is that we can tweak them until they're near perfect.
When you tell a story verbally, it's out there. You can't take it back and tighten it up, change a word, or move a paragraph.
During telephone interviews, I draw little memory jogs and bits of stories from elders, then weave some of them together into a story that hangs together well and has a cute twist at the end. I may use the other pieces in future stories.
I usually rewrite a story a few times on the computer before printing it. Then, I let it "age." I won't let anyone see it for several days because the first few times I read it, I spot ways to improve it. When it's survived a day intact, it's ready for distribution.
I never distribute a story before the elder approves it. Sometimes they want things added or deleted, or wording changed. Even if I feel the changes hurt the story, I make them. I want the story to be theirs.
The finished version is a story the elder would be proud to tell over the dinner table. Even though family stories usually aren't this polished, I want them to be good literature. Why? So they're more "infectious". Heirloom Stories have high I.Q. (infectious quality.)
Heirloom Stories are pieces of paper that will be passed on to future generations, but I also want them to infect the reader with the elder's core ideas. When readers put the paper down, I want the ideas to continue affecting their thinking and actions. When this happens, the elder gains a form of immortality.
Adults pass their genes into the future by making babies. Elders pass their ideas into the future with their stories. A high I.Q. story is like a healthy baby. It has a better chance of surviving.
You don't have to worry about passing on bad ideas. The worst they can do is bore your readers. Like genes, only the best and most useful ideas survive. Heirloom Stories focus on the good ones. You know you've got a good one by the way it makes you feel. Read a few of our sample stories for examples.
When your ideas are carried into the future, it's like you're going there too. - Especially if the ideas are carried by the people who are carrying your genes. The closest we can get to immortality is having our descendants remember our core ideas, live them, and pass them on to their children. High I.Q. stories make that happen.
Your descendants will appreciate any story you write. But if it touches them deeply, it can affect their personality, values, or attitudes. They'll pass a little bit of you on to everyone they meet - like you would do if you were there.
Heirloom Stories are written so ten year-olds can understand them on at least one level. They might not get all the jokes, but the words are simple and the sentences short. You'll want to give copies to all your relatives, but the grandchildren need them most.
For thousands of generations, our ancestors lived in extended family groups, like people still do in traditional and aboriginal cultures. When our ancestors got too old to hunt, gather, or farm, they stayed in their village - with the kids.
What do elders do when they spend time with kids? Tell stories! Kids love stories and elders love to tell them.
Elder stories teach children how to act like adults before they turn into them. Young adults from traditional cultures still have that head start. Our children need it.
Children naturally seek out stories. Until recently, the only stories available were from their elders. When children listen to their elders' stories, they get a boost in self-esteem. The stories make them proud to be a member of their family.
When elder stories aren't available, children often substitute TV stories for them. Instead of making them proud to be who they are, TV stories frequently make children feel as if they need to change their dress, speech, or actions to be accepted by others.
We're not going to get rid of TV, but we can fight its negative effects with elder stories.
If you don't live with your grandchildren, the best way of giving them what they need from you is with written stories.
Heirloom Stories allow us to forge a strong link in our family's Chain of Wisdom. The Chain carries our culture from our ancestors to our descendants - if it doesn't break. Don't let yours break on your watch.
The trend away from extended families isn't going to change soon, so future generations will need elder stories even more. Luckily, once you give written stories to your grandchildren, they'll be in your family forever. They're instant Heirlooms.
Heirloom Stories are fun. Not just to read, but also to "write". When elders write Heirloom Stories with me, I ask questions that trigger stories in them. They just talk. Storytelling is fun for elders, just like learning is fun for children, and productivity (including reproductivity) is fun for adults. These are our natural "jobs" at those ages.
For any species to survive, the individuals must do their jobs. Why do we humans do ours? - Because it's how we have the most fun. Fun motivates us to do things that help humanity.
You can tell elders are having fun when they tell stories. They sound more excited. They forget whatever might have been bothering them. But the best clues are their playful expressions.
There's a good chance the increase in happiness will translate into better health. In my father's case, his mood and blood tests showed a dramatic improvement as soon as we started storytelling. We're sure it added years to his life.
Heirloom Stories are usually about things that can't happen now: People who are gone, places that have changed, or things we don't use anymore. They exist today most clearly in the mind of the elder. If they don't tell their stories, those things may disappear completely.
But the real value of an Heirloom Story is not the story. It's between the lines. Because they're written from the elder's perspective, they show readers how to think like an elder. When you learn to think like an elder, you become wiser.
Elders don't normally think of themselves as wise, but everyone agrees they have common sense. Usually, the older they are, the more they have. (Mind-numbing elder drugs are a pet peeve of mine.)
What's the difference between common sense and wisdom? They're the same thing. The first time you hear it, you call it wisdom. After living with it for a while, you call it common sense.
When you tell a story, it has to make sense. Your common sense holds it together. Kids absorb it as wisdom. Heirloom Stories transmit wisdom because they're full of common sense.
Heirloom Stories are in the first-person for another reason. They bring the elder to life. Centuries from now, descendants will still feel as if they're sitting across the dinner table from you as they read your Heirloom Stories.
Usually, dinnertime stories are a few minutes long. I try to match that by making Heirloom Stories about 500 words each.
Dinnertime stories often end with a twist, usually a laugh - and so do Heirloom Stories. Often, the story will be a logical progression of ideas - but the last line is not what you expect. That's usually funny, but sometimes it's dramatic. For an example, read Three Words.
I encourage elders to write their stories or hire family members to do it. Heirloom Stories from the Harnessmaker's Son is an excellent example of how to write them. It's also a great memory trigger for topics to write about.
If you write your stories, I'm sure they'll be wonderful. - But please don't call them "Heirloom Stories." That's a trademark.
I'm the only person who can write Heirloom Stories. If you'd like me to write some for you, please contact me.
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