I Believe in Storytelling
Before the age of air conditioned homes one could amble down a neighborhood street at dinner time and hear the soft rhythms of muted voices floating on the summer air. The quiet intimacy of these conversations was often punctuated by bursts of hearty laughter.
As a child, on a summer’s evening, our family meal was often taken at my grandparent’s large, oil cloth covered table on their breezy porch. The fragrance of mimosa blooms wafted through the screens as our family consumed the garden fresh vegetables, cornbread and sweet tea my grandmother prepared for us. The last morsels of dessert disappeared and the empty plates were gathered but the meal was not complete, and the diners would not disperse, until we heard a few stories from my grandfather. These were the days before television robbed families of lingering after a meal to enjoy one another’s company, opinions and reports of daily activities.
The themes of my grandfather’s stories revolved around his cronies at the Elks Club, the politics of the day, fishing tales or an oft repeated rendition of the antics of a family eccentric. As the patriarch of the family rapt and respectful attention was afforded him as inflections woven through his voice painted vivid scenes of harrowing predicaments, or hilarious descriptions of friends and relatives. It was around that table that I learned to believe in storytelling.
If storytelling has a genetic marker it may be the trait is be found to some degree in my own DNA. I often find myself enlarging upon events and embellishing them for dramatic effect. This is storytelling and is not to be confused with stretching the truth as my sister sometimes accuses me. Recounting events requires me to give my own particular perspective and these stories actively engage the listener’s imagination. When this happens with anyone it raises a mere conversation to the level of an art form.
Storytelling can occur at the kitchen table, in the corporate board room or on a stage. A story can be told to teach a moral value, mold character or just add color to conversations. A story can persuade, correct perceptions and widen our understanding of a universally held truth. Stories have been told ever since man has been able to speak. Some of the most notable storytellers were Homer, Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and Lao Tzu. In our generation professional storytellers mesmerize storytelling junkies at special festivals and celebrities record literary jewels that may be purchased online.
But what I mourn is the loss of the family storyteller. It is at the knee of the family storyteller that one learns the art within the heart of the family. Whether the storyteller is an aunt, a grandparent or a family friend the tradition enriches our lives, our vocabularies and the sense that family storytelling presents each of us with a rich tapestry of experiences, affections and unique language that binds us together.
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