by Sue Ann Rybak
Barbara Sherf, 51, of Flourtown, has a gift for storytelling. She can capture the essence of someone’s spirit through the gift of stories. Life is just a series of moments, and often time has a way of erasing our greatest treasures, our memories. As human beings, we attempt to capture those moments in photos and videos to preserve our legacy, our story.
But, more often than not, those memories lie buried in a shoebox in the basement or worse are never shared. Sherf, a freelance writer and public relations professional (whose father has dementia) understands that our stories define us, and by sharing those stories we validate our experiences and existence. Our life has meaning.
As a result, Sherf recently began a business entitled Capture Life Stories. Sherf said she felt called to start the business after writing a book entitled “Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived … Not Preached” about her father’s life. The book began as a gift for her father’s 80th birthday. “He used to tell me these fabulous stories about growing up on a farm, buying his first horse, Paint, and riding in The Cowtown Rodeo while riding horseback.”
Despite her incessant pleas to write down her dad’s stories, he was reluctant. “It wasn’t until I sent him off to Florida one year with a spiral-bound book and a series of worksheets that contained questions that he responded,” said Sherf, who finished writing the book in 2008. She asked her father what was the happiest day of his life and was surprised at his answer. “I thought it might be his wedding day or the birth of his first child, but no, it was the time he was able to go and purchase his first horse.”
On the video Sherf made for her father’s 85th birthday, Charlie read a letter dated Aug. 16, 1943, which included a receipt for his horse, “Paint.” Charlie had paid $75 in cash for “one spotted brown and white horse and army saddle.”
“He [the horse] was about six years old,” Charlie wrote. “He only had one eye, but he was the most beautiful thing I ever had and ever will have.” Sherf soon realized the importance of recording her father’s stories, as well as those of friends and local residents. For example, she recalled interviewing 92-year-old Lula Pidcock Mohr after Mohr’s son contacted her about writing a booklet and an article for her 93rd birthday party.
Mohr’s ancestors were the first white settlers of Bucks County and had come over on the boat with William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. Six months later, the family asked Sherf to make a video of Lula’s life. They drove to a vacant family homestead and to the site of a restored barn that had burned to the ground, killing four horses, when Lula was a little girl. Tears fill Mohr’s eyes as she talked about coming home from a Methodist church on “Children’s Day” to discover that four horses had died in the blaze and that her grandfather, who tried to rescue the horses, was badly burned on the neck.
Sherf said the video was “a rich, powerful, testament to all that this woman had endured.” Six months later, Mohr died of cancer. Her son had played a looped version of the video on a big screen TV in her hospice room 48 hours before she died.
“Family members and staff watched her story over and over, and she would not let anyone turn it off or even turn it down,” said her son, Bob Mohr. “I believe it was a confirmation of her life and closure for her.”
“I realized then that this was more than just for my dad or my family, that this was a calling I felt compelled to share with others,” said Sherf.
Kim Morris, 39, of Erdenheim, said she will forever be thankful for that gift. She said her family has always talked about videotaping their father, John “Jack” Whittaker. Morris said she grew up listening to great stories about his flying in B-29 bombers. “We heard bits and pieces about his childhood,” said Morris, “but I didn’t remember all the details of those stories, and asking him to remember them all allowed all of us to know those great stories.”
She recalled how as a teenager her father, who didn’t have a driver’s license, would sneak out and take his parents’ car to go bar hopping with Lew Jenkins, a light-heavyweight boxing champion. “My dad met him when he was 16 and working at Borden’s Ice Cream Shop,” Morris said. “Lew asked him if he had a car, and of course, he said ‘yes.’ He would roll the car out of the driveway, pick Lew up, and go to New York. It was fun to sit around and reminisce. I am so thankful to have this video. It’s something that all of us, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, will cherish forever.”
Sherf added, “I feel that we work so hard throughout our lives to get this nest egg that we can then divide with our children, but often we don’t think about the true gifts we can give them like our life stories, which you cannot put a price on.”
For more information about Capture Life Stories, call 215-990-9317 or visit www.capturelifestories.com.