By Lauren Befus
Memory Lane Jane Founder and Chief Historian
“I want to tell my story, but I don’t know how.”
I had no idea 10 years ago that this simple sentence spoken by David Van Dyke, my husband’s grandfather, would forever change my life.
I’ve always been interested in preserving people’s stories. I was the editor of my high school yearbook. I wrote for my college newspaper. I became a newspaper reporter right out of college. I started an oral history project for WWII veterans. I organized and officiated funerals at our church. I worked as a storyteller at a funeral home. Did I mention I love telling people’s stories?
It wasn’t until Grandpa said those words out loud—”I want to tell my story, but I don’t know how”—that suddenly everything clicked. Maybe this was what all my years of storytelling were leading me to.
“All I know how to do is talk,” Grandpa told me. “I could never put a book together.”
But I could. At the very least, I could interview him about his life and record it. I’d been doing that for years. We could figure out the rest after we got started. And, that’s exactly what we decided to do. We also agreed to not tell the rest of the family what we were up to so that we could surprise everyone with a book (hopefully!) at the end.
Grandpa and I spent hours together talking about his life—his family, his childhood, his teenage years, how he met Grandma, his career as a firefighter and a builder, his experience of becoming a father and grandfather, his disappointments, his hopes, dreams and reflections back on his life. It was extraordinary! I recorded his story and had it transcribed. I began to weave his words into a flowing, organized narrative. Then we searched through hundreds of photo albums. We dug through boxes of files, letters, newspaper and mementos tucked away in his office.
Following 18 months of interviewing, writing, editing, re-writing, organizing photos, and writing captions, we reached out to a book designer and she helped us lay out Grandpa’s story in a breathtaking, full-color, 130-page design. We couldn’t believe our eyes! Once the design and proofing was complete, we knew it was time to find a printer. But we had no idea who to use and what the process would be.
After researching numerous short-run printers, we found Book1One. Right from the start, the staff was helpful, responsive and gracious with us book-printing newbies. We had talked with other printers about our project, but no one seemed willing to help as much or to care as much as Book1One. We were also impressed with the quality of their work.
Grandpa ordered 40 books to give away as gifts to his children and grandchildren on Christmas Eve 2012. We almost didn’t make the print deadline for a Christmas delivery. Again, Book1One was patient and especially accommodating.
I will never forget the moment at our family Christmas when Grandpa announced that he had something special for everyone to open. All at once we opened the boxes and there inside was one of the most beautiful books I have ever seen about one of the most amazing men I have ever known. There were more than 50 of us gathered in the room, and everyone fell silent. There were tears, laughter, “oohs and ahhs,” and so much gratitude.
David seeing his life's work for the first time
“Oh wow! I’ve never seen this picture of you before, Dad!”
“Grandpa, I didn’t know this about you!”
“See how much the grandsons look like Dad when he was a boy!”
“Look! Grandpa’s favorite jokes are in here!”
I knew in that moment that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Everyone should have the opportunity to open a beautiful, custom-designed book about their loved one’s life story and legacy. It truly is the gift of a lifetime.
None of this would have been possible without the help and partnership of Book1One. Neither Grandpa nor I had any idea what we were doing, but we set out on a journey of fulfilling his dream to tell his story. We had so many laughs and hiccups along the way, but in the end, we created a beautiful heirloom that will be passed down to my children and grandchildren, and the generations to come.
Printed genealogy books are the perfect heirloom
Thanks to Grandpa and his encouragement, I started my own life story writing company—Memory Lane Jane—in Fall 2017. (Check out the first stories highlighting my work with Grandpa in a local newspaper and on the news!) I have had the privilege of preserving dozens of life stories in heirloom books around the country since then.
On Friday, January 22, 2021, Grandpa passed away at the age of 90 surrounded by our family. Right before he died, I got to hold his hand and tell him, "Grandpa, everything I'm doing now, all these amazing stories I'm getting to tell, are because of you. Look at what you started! Look at this incredible legacy you are leaving behind."
This book is now more precious to me and to our family than ever before. Reading Grandpa’s precious words wrecks my heart, but at the same time, brings me so much comfort and peace. This gift will keep on giving to me and to so many others for the rest of my life and beyond.