Category Archives: Story pegs

My Story/Your Story/Our Story of 9/11

9/11 image with statue of libertyThe tenth anniversary of 9/11 has come and gone.

It is one of those shared moments that each of us remembers differently. I was putting on my running shoes. The television happened to be on.  I  called my friend and told her a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. She started to ask where we were going meet for usual 45 minutes of exercise. “Turn on your television,” I told her and for the next 45 minutes we watched together, talking on the phone the whole time. We caught the moment when the second plane hit.

My husband had gone to Boston on business the Monday before. He wasn’t schedule to return until Friday. All week he kept thinking they’d get the planes flying by Friday. Saturday morning he started driving and was glad he had a car–any way to get home. Took him two days. When he went to turn in the car in Boulder, Colorado, the place was a mess, cars being turned in from everywhere, more than the local car rental place could park in their parking lot. Confusion. Frustration.

My husband and I remember 9/11 as an inconvenience–an ongoing inconvenience every time we fly. There are worse stories. There are families who lost loved ones that day and families that continue to lose loved ones to the wars and aftermath of the clean-up.

Events that everyone remembers are anchors in time. I’m old enough to remember the Kennedy assassination, the events of 1968, and watching the first man to walk on the moon. What are the anchor events in your life and that of your family? Are they written down?



Filed under Event, Family Stories, History, Memories, National Story, Story pegs

Family History: 25 Years of Storytelling Wisdom

Cherie SchwartzWhen I said lots of people think stories are just stories and not always true, I happened to also sneeze. Cherie Karo Schwartz’s comeback was a Yiddish proverb “Sneeze on the truth.”

Families, she told me, are like the 33 Chilean miners recently rescued from half a mile underground. To survive, they organized themselves. They designated parts of the mine for sleeping, eating and other purposes. They picked a leader. They sang and told stories. Families do the same. They create space and tunnels and make decisions. A spiritual leader arises to hold the sacred space. “It’s really the only way to stay sane,” she added, “especially when you’re stuck in the dark.” In her mind, “soul” and “story” are nearly the same, I realized, and she defined “sanity” as something akin to preserving and perpetuating our stories–our souls.

I’d driven to Denver and I was sitting in her kitchen, eating honey cake that morning, because I wanted to know why people came to her sessions on family folklore. I thought she’d know. She was a professional storyteller who’d made a specialty of family folklore for more than twenty-five years. I also thought I knew the answer. I expected her to talk about a need for roots, a place in history, a search for identity . . ..

We touched on those things but, deep down, she seemed to think story existed on an even more primal level. Quoting Bary Lopez, she said, “Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory.” She continued, “We need stories to stay human, like those miners trapped with no obvious help. Stories are heartbeat, everything.”

Circle Spinning BookCherie Karo Schwartz descends from a Rabbi, known as a lawgiver, mystic, and storyteller. He said a malech or angel sat on his shoulder and whispered stories to him.  Her grandmother, her bubbe, used to say, “Sit down, let me tell you a story and make you a part of the family.”

When I asked if people came to her sessions because they felt they’d lost their family stories, she shook her head. “We’re human beings; we have stories.” Nevertheless, she provides a page of  questions to get people started. Asking good questions applies to a lot of things, she believed. “When children come home from school, don’t ask what they learned, ask whether they asked good questions . . .”

I left hoping I’d asked one or two.


Filed under Family history, Family Stories, History, Memoir, Old Storytelling Traditions, Story pegs, Uncategorized, Why Stories?

Airbrush that Minivan, Please

OK, since the last photo got lots of comment, I can’t resist adding this one. Again, it’s my son and his daughter in a museum. Right after the photo was taken, they were told “you can’t do that” by a guard. Ethan, my son, puzzled a moment and asked why not. “This is a museum, not a playground,” was the answer.

“In our family we ________(fill in the blank).

We can fill in the blank, because we’ve all been told that in our family we do certain things in certain ways. I’m assuming the guard’s family only has fun in appropriate places like playgrounds. The danger is that once we’ve decided what it is that we do, as a family or an individual, we resist other choices.

I have a good friend who never-ever thought of herself as the tan-minivan-type. When she had three kids under the age of seven and the only car she could afford was a used tan-minivan, she seriously thought about not leaving her house for the next five years. Her solution?

She scraped together enough cash to have flames airbrushed on the sides of the minivan and then drove it until it had to be towed to the junkyard because, by that time, she had become known as the cool mom with the flaming van.

Story has a powerful hold on us. We expect our lives to turn out like the stories we’ve heard. If those stories don’t include clowning in museum or driving a dull car, we won’t.

How do you______ (fill in the blank)? Is the result freeing or restrictive?


Filed under Family Stories, Funny story, Story Motif, Story pegs, Why Stories?

Still Love Tiger Lilies!

First time I saw tiger lilies, I was visiting an elderly friend of my mother’s who had a row of them blooming along her driveway.Tiger LilyThey were so bright and colorful they took my breath away; I remember feeling stunned at such beauty. I wanted my mother to notice, but she was busy, doing adult things, I don’t remember what. I was six-years-old, and might as well have lived in a different universe. However, the lady noticed. She made my mother wait while she put some bulbs in a box. I kept the bulbs for years, tucked in a safe place, believing they were precious, but not knowing how to turn them into flowers.

Saw tiger lilies in a bouquet yesterday. Stops me, every time, with that remembered sense of wonder.


Filed under children's stories, Memories, stories, Story pegs, Uncategorized

The Year of the _________ (fill in the blank)


Norman Rockwell Painting

Norman Rockwell Painting

It’s not over yet. Where I live, I understand we’re likely to get one more snowstorm before we can call it a year. Then 2008 becomes the past, the story we tell of the times we lived.


In some native American cultures, winter was storytime, when the clan gathered round the fire and retold the old and added the new. Part of the task was to name the year–the year of the horse raid or the buffalo hunt or the appearance of the comet. This was serious because how you named it was how it would be remembered.

Take the year when Norman Rockwell wanted to join the US Navy. The First World War had just started. His friends had all joined up. It was what he thought every red-blooded young man should do, but he was rejected–underweight by eight pounds. So he went home, gorged himself on bananas, donuts and liquids. Next day he got accepted, but he never saw any action. He was made a military artist instead.

So how did Rockwell mark that year? A disappointment? Or an opportunity to hone the skill that would eventually make him famous?

The elders sitting around their campfires, in the storytime of winter, often took their time and sometimes hotly debated the meaning and importance of one event over another. 

For me, this will be the year of the election. None of us know how that will really turn out, in the long run, but for one night in 2008, there was dancing in the street. Not just any street, the one right in front of my house. Both my sons called–one from Baltimore, the other from Pasadena. There were celebrations in their cities, too. They wanted to know if there had been celebrations after other elections. Not in my lifetime. Protests: Viet Nam and equal rights. National mourning: Kennedy and King. Dancing is different. I want to remember so that if I’m asked again . . ..

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Story Pegs: The Vampire Thanksgiving

We use stories as pegs in the slippery slope of time.

New peg for us: The Vampire Thanksgiving. Found ourselves sharing a table, at a local restaurant with a friend of a friend who happens to write books about vampires. She talked nonstop. Not nonsense! She really knew the literary history of vampires and was both interesting and informative on a subject my husband never knew he had any use for.

“Dad discussed vampires over his turkey,” I told our grown-up sons when they called that evening.

“You’re kidding, really?”

Thanksgivings come and go, but because we have a stake in the heart of Turkey Day 2008, we will remember this one. “Oh, yeah, that was the year of the Vampire Thanksgiving.” That phrase, of course, begs to be followed by the story.

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