Category Archives: stories

the subject of this blog

Why Worry About Family Stories?

Why Family Stories?

Unless we pause to ask, “Why that story,” or “Why that story told that way,” we may find ourselves trying to live the story we’ve always heard. In my family we tell great love stories. Listen long enough and you might spend your whole life waiting to be swept off your feet.

Stories get better with time. Families exaggerate because they want the stories to be remembered. Pay attention. The whoppers contain clues as to what the family thinks is important. George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree; never said “I cannot tell a lie.” So why, as an American family, do we keep telling that story? When we stop telling it, what has changed?

Stories have voices. If all our stories are about hardship, we may not be able to hear good news. If our stories are about old hurts, we feel a duty to right old wrongs. Old hatreds are passed along the same way.

Stories are slogans. “In our family we ___________” is a sentence most of us can complete. Question is, who decides how to fill in that blank?

If you come from a family of war heroes, does it become unthinkable to not put on a uniform? If you come from a family that goes to college, is becoming a plumber an option or a failure?

Giving a new twist to an old story can make a huge difference. Have you examined your family stories lately?

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Filed under Family history, Family Stories, History, stories, Why Stories?

When the Stories are Complete . . .

Verna Wilder writes an insightful blog called OUT OF THE CUBE. As part of her entry entitled Turn the Page she reminds us exactly why we need to pay attention to family stories:

Waving Good-byeAt the end of the day (so to speak), all we have are stories. And I don’t mean to diminish their value by saying “all we have,” as if this is nothing. In fact, isn’t it everything? Don’t the minutes and moments and remember-the-time-whens accumulate and dissipate like fog in low-lying land? It’s like this: for more than 10 years, I’ve been meeting up with my siblings annually at Dad’s house, where we sit in the garage with the big bay doors open where we can stay dry while thunderstorms pass through, where we tell stories and create new stories, and just as the storm passes and leaves everything fresh and new, so this visit passes into memory – and into story. Thank god for story.

At the end of the visit four years ago, as I was putting my car in gear to pull out of Dad’s driveway, I looked in the side-view mirror to see Dad and my sister Carolyn waving at me, Carolyn doing that imitation of our grandmother who used to wave a hankie at our retreating station wagon on those childhood visits, and I thought, as I often do, that this could be the last time I’d see my father.

Carolyn died three weeks later. Just like that, the Carolyn stories were a complete set. There would be no more.

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Filed under Family Stories, Life Story, Memoir, stories, Why Stories?

Story Please!

The old adage says “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Not always true, but there are photos that seem to be a story. We look, smile, and wish we knew more about what’s going on. This family at a museum in Toronto, for example. Don’t you almost wish you could overhear what they’re talking about? Aren’t you tempted to make up a story?

Little confession: that’s my son and his daughters. I didn’t take the photo. I wasn’t even there, but I think it’s a charming moment.

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Filed under Family Photos, stories, Why Stories?

Finding Wisdom

I have a frieChinese word wisdomnd who got a PhD based on a thesis about wisdom. Where do you find it? Can it be taught? She traveled worldwide, Lapland, Kenya, Japan, deep south of US, etc. asking who was considered wise in varying cultures and then interviewing those people. She was looking for a commonality. What made people wise? What made others call someone wise?

No surprise, none of the people she interviewed considered himself/herself wise, not even Wangari Maathai, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize that same week. Most were surprised that they’d been nominated for her study. None were too busy to talk. All gave full attention to the questions being asked. The commonality? Without exception, they had all lived through difficult times, suffered enormous personal losses, and somehow risen above their own suffering to assume a life-affirming role in the lives of others.

For example, Wangari Maathai’s husband sued her for divorce in 1979 saying she was too strong-willed for a woman and he couldn’t control her. When she protested, saying it was a ruse to get her to quit her leadership of the Green Belt Movement, the judge sent her to jail for six months and told never to use her husband’s name again. It was assumed that without her husband’s income, she would be unable to continue her efforts against corrupt land practices in Kenya. In one of the hardest decisions of her life, when she was released from prison, she left her children in her husband’s care, and continued her efforts.

Chinese word wisdomWhat wisdom did my friend find? The interviews ended without great nuggets of knowledge. Her candidates had no answers, claimed no special powers, most advocated no particular religion or lifestyle. Many, like Maathai, had causes, but felt no need to force their agenda on anyone. Most felt that right would prevail without resorting to hate or arms. Although they were not naive about the difficulty they had faced or would continue to face. Above all, they told stories. Lots and lots of wonderfully moving stories about themselves and others. Hard questions, it seems, don’t have answers. They have stories.

Oh, and they all laughed easily and often.

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Filed under Definition, Life Story, Old Storytelling Traditions, stories, Story Motif

Comma, Comma

graphic on commasThis is too good. How we tell our stories matters. Missed mentioning that how we punctuate our stories might also matter. Comma, comma, comma!

Not sure who created this. Just showed up in my e-mail this morning. Thanks, whoever you are.

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Filed under Funny story, New Story, stories, Storytelling

Nigerian Novelist on Why We Need All Our Stories

photo Chimamanda AdichieChimamanda Adichie, Nigerian novelist, makes a dramatic argument on the danger of a single story. This is worth 18 minutes of your time! I’ve watched it three times.

She argues that when we think we know someone’s story, we limit them. When we try to make our lives fit some story, we limit ourselves. We need all our stories. We need to tell them, listen to them, search and preserve them.

http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

Chimamanda Adichie was born in Nigerian in 1977. Her novels are Purple Hibiscus and Half a Yellow Moon.

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Filed under Family Stories, History, Old Storytelling Traditions, Personal Narrative, stories, Storytelling, Uncategorized, Why Stories?

Stodgy Vs Story

I had a great aunt whose idea of entertainment was to bring out the family photographs and carefully repeat the names, “This is cousin So-and-So.” A man’s wife was always “Mrs. So-and-So,” never a first name, who was called something else before she was married and something else after she re-married. Of course, Mrs. So-and-So was related to someone else I was supposed to know . . .. I was worse than bored. I grumped and slumped until my great aunt finally excused my bad behavior saying “very likely I was just too young to remember.”

Hardly.

I also had an uncle who twisted nursery rhymes into ribald limericks. Since no one would explain why they were funny, I had to remember them until I was old enough to figure it out on my own.

Mary Had a Little Lamb imageMary had a little lamb

She tied him to a heater

Every time he turned around

He burned his little peter

will run through my head the rest of my life.

Names and dates don’t stick: never have, never will; but, once in awhile, my great aunt got distracted and told me something interesting, like the fact that one of my ancestors was a Viking pirate. Of course, when I asked to see a picture of him, she didn’t have one, which meant she was forced to fill-in. “Our family came from Denmark, not the regular part of Denmark, but a little island off the coast with a hidden cove—a favorite Viking hideout. There were pirates plundering nearby ports from that little island far longer than from the Barbary Coast,” she claimed.

Viking Ship Picture

Turns out that’s mostly true, but, even if she was still alive, I doubt she’d be impressed by the fact that I’ve been to that little island, checking out her pirate story, among other things. She was less about truth and more about application. When she told a story, she made sure it made a point.

“We are luckier than pirates,” she told me. “We have so many new things, such wonderful inventions, these days a pirate wouldn’t know what to steal.”

Turns out my great aunt also kept a journal. She names her first boyfriend, Alonzo Eckersley, and tells how they spent one summer together:

Every night we would take a ride on my horse and then dream dreams of what we were going to do in the future. One night his dog was poisoned. Both of us surely did cry.

She doesn’t say what happened to Alonzo. Instead, she shifts to how she went away to board for high school. She lived with a family named Stewart and took piano lessons but didn’t like making music. She names her best girlfriends: Mildred Rhule, Grace Ritchie, and Ruby Ward.

photo of young women and 1922 automobileThey had a car and so did I. We had a good time that summer with all the boyfriends! I guess there were too many boyfriends because I got so I hated them all. They were all alike, how disgusting, and they all acted and talked alike.

The year happens to be 1922, but the tale is timeless.

We take photographs, sometimes feverishly, trying to hold the moments that matter, but, nearly always, when I tell someone that I’m gathering the family stories, I get a puzzled response, as if that is not a task for the serious. Names and dates on genealogical charts, fine. Copying the family photographs, encouraged. Stories? Why stories?

Because two pages of her journal were enough to change my impression of a stodgy old aunt.

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Filed under Family Photos, Family Stories, Life Story, Memories, Personal Narrative, stories, Uncategorized, Why Stories?