With the recent passing of my mother, I find a bit of solace in the fact that I spoke with her in the past few months regarding things she remembers about growing up in southeast Iowa. I encourage all genealogists to please, (Please!) set up a time to speak to the elders of your family. You never know how long they will be with you and they will almost definitely have more information about the era of their childhood than you know.
After my mother broke her hip back in August and she was on the road to recovery, I was reminded that as indestructible as she seemed, she would not be around forever. I asked her if we could spend some time talking about her memories. She was hesitant, but only because she didn't think she had anything important to say. In this case, she couldn't have been more wrong.
Prepare some questions to ask, but don't insist the conversation follow the path you prepared for. Let them speak as it comes from their heart and mind. While I had a list of questions to ask her, I didn't force the discussion to go in any direction. Because of this, some of my questions went unanswered but I found out more about her mother's parents and their home than I ever would have known to ask about.
In addition, ask if they would be willing to participate in a genealogical DNA test. I had previously sent an email to my mother and her sisters. One of her sisters volunteered. Because I did not get a response from my mother, I thought she was uncomfortable with it and didn't really want to talk about it. So I left it. Then she had a problem with her iPad. I worked on it and verified we could get into her email. At that point, I discovered that she didn't check her email. Ever. She never read the email I sent to her asking if she'd be willing to take the DNA test. At the end of our interview, I asked her directly if she would be willing to take the test. She was happy to. I am SO glad I asked.
Now she's gone. If I hadn't set up this time to speak with her and if I hadn't asked her directly if she'd take the DNA test, there is a lot of information I never would have known about. It would have been an opportunity that would never come again.
Please, put aside any discomfort and speak to your elders. Set up a time to interview them about their lives, what they remember, what they felt at certain points in their lives. Ask them where the family home was, or where their grandparents lived. Ask them what their parents and grandparents were like. There are so many questions to ask, just ask them! Just don't try to control the conversation too much. Let them speak as long as they like about any given topic. Just make sure to keep the topics to the reasons for the conversation, their family, their life. You may never get another chance. Do it.