I’m past the age—even my kids are past the age—where eyes light up for giant lumberjacks, or flying school buses, or house-building pigs. But I believe in bedtime stories.
My father’s father was a coal worker who came home weekends from a nearby mining town. In those pre-television days, he entertained his family reciting poems he’d memorized during the week. My dad, who taught kids daytime, adult school at night, brought some of this tradition into our California suburb. When home at my bedtime, he’d retell the fairy tales, children’s novels, and bible hero stories that were imprinted in his own memory.
I came to know there’s a world of commerce and a counterpart world closer to home.
My father’s tradition kept into my teens, where legends made way for contemporary stories. It was there I discovered Crick & Watson discovering DNA.
What I got from years of bedtime stories was more than the points of the parables. They showed me how things could be uncovered to reveal the unexpected. There was a prince in the frog, the body in the molecule. These stories transmitted the possibility of transformation.
When I was in college I took this guy I barely knew back to a farmhouse where I lived alone. Our conversation turned uncomfortable; the next thing I knew my date had splashed the glass of water he was drinking at me. At that moment, the night birds crying in the fields—which were known to dive into the woodstove chimney and flap rabidly around my kitchen—were not as scary as The Beast in my livingroom.
In the morning I heard the tub running and saw The Beast awake, standing in the bedroom door.
“I thought a bath was good,” he said. “And I brought a story I could read you.”
A bedtime story can change everything. Even if it’s a morning-after bedtime story. Michael and I have been married 25 years.
As an advertising copywriter, I transmitted stories all my life. “The dress that makes you slimmer.” “The TV show the drug companies don’t want you to see.”
But bedtime stories, if you believe in them, don’t convince you, they enter you. They become your stories—like the one about our daughter, Tess, when she was a toddler and turned off the light in the middle of a fairy tale read to her and her brother. When scolded, she confronted my husband in haughty-queen English:
“I turn out the light, you fool.”
Recently my connection with stories sent me back to school in speech pathology, to work with speech problems of older adults. Around 25 percent of stroke sufferers experience loss of their speech and language. Piecing back the ability to make stories is often a long journey, and a hard one…but there’s a pot-of-gold reward at the end.
In my closet hangs a silky gown and velvet hood. In a couple weeks I’ll wear them to trek across a stage and claim a master of science degree. I’ll be 57 in June. Too old, people might think, to be starting out on this unfamiliar path. But I’ve always believed in bedtime stories. There the world teems with grizzly princesses and wise old crones, and the transformations that get going when someone speaks out of the dark.
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