The ability to craft a good story was seen as a strength growing up as the eldest of my parent’s four children. Telling a good story to keep the younger three siblings entertained, so mom could get something done, was the job of the firstborn daughter. Stories of children finding treasure and common girls becoming princesses were frequently heard around our yard.
Story telling was also a necessary skill to have to I convinced my siblings that, what I was telling them to do was important to their long-term survival. Besides, the consequences of their inability to comply would always fall on me. A well-crafted story of creatures in the night, who stole bad children as they slept, kept the chores on schedule (dog fur placed beside a pillow before their eyes opened kept the story… well, interesting). My sister, Wendy, born just two years after me was one of my best friends. Frequently we contrived stories together to tell the younger two.
One summer, she and I would convince the young ones of their need to take a driver’s “Bike Test”. This would allow them to drive a bike without us watching them at all times. Poor things, it is a miracle they survived jumps over ramps and driving without any hands on the handlebars downhill- just some of the requirements of the “Bike Test”.
Sometimes, she and I would “spend the night together”. Which meant opening the sofa bed in our family room and watching television until late at night. One of these nights I explained how babies were born. I included a story about my own birth. I explained with great detail how I entered the delivery room from my mother’s belly, driving a motorcycle and wearing a leather jacket. We laughed until we could no longer inhale breath.
I think my love of story came from my mother. She would tell us stories about her childhood. Stories of brothers going off to World War II, her mother’s death, her father – the entrepreneur, and the mischief she and her eight siblings would find to entertain and torment each other.
Her stories had the ability to lift me up as if on a magic carpet and carry me back in time to see and experience, vicariously, scenes of her childhood. I could feel the starch on the uniforms preparing to leave for war, hear the band playing in the gazebo at the park, and smell the muskiness of the basement during air raid drills.
There were times I have thought back to her stories with adult perspective and observed, like a bird on a wire, the life she really lived. The youngest of nine in a family who had more than their fair share of losses and sorrows. Some of her personality traits, stirring my anger and desire to argue as a teen, now make sense. She is no longer the infallible incarnation of God, as I thought of her in my youth, but a woman with broken places, like me. Stories can help to explain our choices and reasoning.
I think about my own daughter, wondering what stories she will remember about her childhood and share with her children. Will they hold on to the fringe of the magic carpet and ride as I did with my mother; and as their mother did with me?
Maybe she will tell about the time her brother jumped from the roof of our house and frightened people coming to our front door at Halloween. Or maybe, she will tell about the time we road bikes through a drainage ditch, under the interstate, to go to McDonalds.
No matter what she tells, I pray she teaches her children about their own story. How to put it into a journal and save it for the next generation. Because it is on the foundation of the previous generation, that our stories are written.(tweet this)
Do you write or tell the stories of your childhood?
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