I believe in stories. More specifically, I believe in telling my stories to my children. Admittedly I come from a storytelling family. Every time my siblings and I gather with our parents we can’t help ourselves, we tell and retell stories from our past. We always tell our stories within earshot of our children and by so doing create a connection to their past and project ourselves into the future.
I never met my paternal grandparents but I know them through the stories that my father tells. I am linked to a grandfather who explored the Amazon and worked on the Panama Canal and died while building the Bonneville Dam leaving behind a family of six children. The accounts my father tells of his childhood are not stories of despair and strife but stories full of mirth, hard work, and a family determined to stay together. I can picture my father as a youngster- filling ice cream containers the old-fashioned way, unloading watermelons, or sweeping a store for a small wage, and know what growing up in the Depression required. I always laugh when he tells the story about his brother’s mishap with magazines and a public outhouse. Let’s say, it’s a bit of stinky story. Through his stories I am connected to history.
My storytelling skills come from my mother. She often shares stories about her childhood. I can picture my mom in the crawl space where she liked to play. In my mind’s eye I see her chasing her cat in the middle of the night wearing only a thin nightgown to keep the mean, old neighbor from capturing it. I’ve always been a bit envious of my mother for her Sub-Deb club whose motto was “meet and eat”. My mother comes from a family of storytellers. There are rich, vivid accounts of my grandfather coming to America from Norway via Ellis Island, fighting in The Great War in France, homesteading in Oregon, and his courtship with my grandmother who grew up on a farm in Illinois. Grandma knew how to make soap from fat and lye, braided rugs from old coats, and was always a little vain about her looks even wearing a girdle into her 90s. Through their stories I am connected to my heritage.
My high school students had an assignment to tape the oral history of a parent or grandparent. Many grumbled but most actually enjoyed the experience. As I listened to their recordings I marveled at the connections being made as these teens and their elders shared their stories with each other. One student came back after my class had ended for the semester to thank me for the assignment. His grandmother had died since the interview but now he had a precious tape holding her stories and his memories. Through our stories we remain connected to those we love.
A few years ago I overheard my daughter telling her cousin one of my stories and in turn, my niece shared one of my sister’s stories. At that moment I knew the future was going to be OK. Our children will carry us with them into the future-our history, heritage, and love. That is why I believe in the importance of telling my stories.
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