simplyjan

A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Tell Me a Story

I love stories.

storytelling

Some of my favorite memories are of my grandparents telling me stories, something that all four of them did a lot. I remember riding in the back of my grandfather’s camper-top pick-up truck. He was up front, driving us to Stumphouse Tunnel. Nana was in the back with me, my brother, and my sister, telling us stories. Those were the days when riding down interstate in the back of a pick-up wasn’t illegal. I’m so glad it wasn’t. I have great memories of that day.

As a young adult, I spent precious evenings on the front porch with Mom and Granddaddy. My new husband and I bought a cheap single-wide trailer and moved it to the farm, next to their house. He worked a lot of evenings and nights. Rather than to spend all that time alone, after supper I’d walk next door and sit on the glider. Mom sat in one rocker to one side, Granddaddy in the other on the other side. They told story after story.

I loved it when Granddaddy was in a storytelling mood. His voice was deep and gravelly. He was mischievous through and through, and therefore loved to tell stories that made him laugh. He talked about the tricks he played on his youngest sister, Malinda. Her middle name was Bratton, which of course was shortened to “Brat.” Bless her. It wasn’t easy being the baby in that sibling group!

He told stories about his old maid aunts – Aunt Annie and Aunt Pearl – both schoolteachers. They were strict and he earned his share of punishment in their classes. He told about having to sit on the hard floor, legs extended straight in front of him, back straight. If he slumped, he got a swat with a ruler. I do believe they gave him paper to sit on for the duration. Of course they didn’t want him getting his clothes dirty. One of his favorite schoolhouse stories, one that made him laugh every time he told it, was about a classmate named Dick. Dick was standing near the wood stove, trying to warm up when a hot coal popped out on him. The teacher said to him (was it Aunt Annie or Aunt Pearl – I can’t remember), “Did it burn you, Dick?” With a country drawl he replied, “No’m. It burnt my leg.” I declare, I think I can hear him laughing even now.

There were stories of unnamed ancestors whose actions outlived the memory of their names. There was one about a woman who encircled a stash of ammunition with gunpowder, made a trail of it long enough to put her a safe distance away, then lit the gunpowder and blew up the ammunition before it was seized by enemy troops. He couldn’t remember what her name was or even which war it was. I discovered, partly through research and partly by luck, that her name was Martha Bratton and it was during the Revolutionary War. She was my great (times 5) grandmother. Little sister Malinda had gotten her middle name from the Bratton line. No wonder she was such a survivor!

It scares me a little bit that our society seems to be getting away from storytelling as a family activity. I think of all I would have missed if I hadn’t heard these stories. Stories aren’t just for entertainment, although they are certainly entertaining. They help us discover our roots. They reveal where large parts of our personality and worldview come from. People we loved who we lost long ago live on through the stories we tell. If we quit telling stories, will the memories eventually fade into nothingness? We can’t let that happen!

That’s a part of why I write. This blog has served in part as a baby book for Gus and Mia. Goodness knows I haven’t had time to compile “real” baby books for them while juggling three kids and a church. There are stories about them that I swore I would never forget. Yet when I go back to reread things from the early days of this blog, I find stories recorded that I hadn’t thought about in years. (Like this one, and this one, and this one.) 

I was talking with my niece the other night. It just so happens that we both are missing her mother (my sister) a whole lot these days. I confessed that I didn’t often mention Joy to her because I didn’t want to stir up pain. Over the course of our conversation, I realized that my failure to talk about Joy with her, to retell stories and experiences, was actually doing more harm than good – for both of us. I think maybe it helped her to realize that she isn’t alone in missing her Mama. She isn’t forgotten. She lives on, in our memories and in our stories.

Let’s keep the stories alive. Let’s tell them (yes, over and over). Let’s write them. Let’s remember them.

once upon a time

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7 thoughts on “Tell Me a Story

  1. Jan. I love that you shared this. I love hearing your stories. I ask you things about Joy and about Susan from time to time but I am not always sure I should. I love that you can share memories with you niece. The stories from your family are a gift that many like myself dont have. Thank you for sharing them.

    • You can ask me about them anytime! You already know I’m a crier, so it’s a risk you take. Lol! But it’s always ok. Never sell your stories short. They aren’t easy ones, but they are so powerful!

  2. In every funeral sermon I mention the need to tell stories, to remember their loved on in stories shared, in memories, in laughter and in tears. I so agree that sharing stories is crucial. I grew up far from my grandparents and never heard their stories after the age of 9. sigh…even when we’d visit it was different, not the casual story sharing you describe, but a busy holiday time. My brothers and I share a little bit of story telling, each of us remembering different things. And, I do try to tell my kids stories of our family. But, this is a reminder to be more intentional.

    • What a wise reminder! I see the healing begin – often in the funeral home gathered around the casket – as people laugh and cry over stories shared. I’m sorry you didn’t get that ongoing link with your grandparents. So glad you and your brother are kickstarting the stories again!

  3. On both sides, my hubby’s and mine, there is a great tradition of story telling. Years ago NPR had a Talk of the Nation that bemoaned how bowling leagues where no more because people didn’t go out anymore, I am sorry but I hate that.

    Human beings will experiment with many different types of entertainment and if we want to keep story telling alive, than tell stories. I don’t think we are at a time when we will forgot to tell our stories, or no-one will ever go outside to do anything again! I have more faith in people than that

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