One of my local writer friends has been working on a series of articles about finding your ancestors through the ever-growing list genealogy tools available online.
Another writer friend is reliving her life as a missionary as she writes her memoir. She’s depending on her memory and on notes made during her years overseas.
For the last six years one of my sisters has been building one side of our family tree. She’s spent hundreds of hours tracking our ancestors back as far as the 1700s. She passes each newly discovered name to me, and I add background information as we create the story of a family. It’s been easier to find the names of our ancestors than to unravel the stories of their lives. Most of the previous generation is gone, and those remaining either did not pay attention to the stories or those family stories weren’t shared.
In our ancestors’ time, storytelling was the means to pass along important family facts and tall tales. Storytelling was not only a tool, it was an expected gift between friends and family. A storyteller was welcome nearly everywhere. A good storyteller could captivate his audience until milking time rolled around again.
People would gather on the porch after supper, and someone in the group would begin.
“You ever heard the one about Uncle Jake and the queen bee?”
Of course, everyone’s heard this story a hundred times or more, but someone in the crowd would always say, “Tell us what that derned fool got up to.”
Everyone settles a tad deeper into the straight-back chairs and green metal lawn chairs. A couple of the women top off the sweating glasses with sweet ice tea, while one of the men adds a generous splash of good bourbon to the men’s glasses and the women pretend not to notice. There’s a sigh of anticipation, as attention turns to the storyteller.
“See, this one time, ol’ Jake decided to git some fresh honey for his mama. Well, he was only ‘bout ten or eleven at the time, so he weren’t too familiar with the fine art o’ stealing honey from hives in the trees. So he gets some things together to help him get up that scraggly old hickory tree in the north forty and…”
The listeners lean forward in their seats, breath suspended when the bees discover poor Jake at the mouth of their hive. They relax, erupting with hee-haws and giggles, slapping their knees, wiping their eyes with their apron hems when the story reaches its conclusion.
The best part of the evening is that children who only know Uncle Jake as a tall somber man in an old-fashioned uniform from a black and white photo in their grandmother’s album can relate to the lad racing screaming across the field in a desperate dash for the lake.
And those children will always remember the night they heard the story about Uncle Jake. They’ll remember chasing fireflies in the dark until the adults’ laughter drew them back to the screened porch, where they crouched against their parents’ legs to hear the story.
Before the advent of television and computers, and all the electronic tools that pretend to keep us connected to each other, while actually isolating us, chaining us to a tiny screen and keyboard… Before the storytellers passed into history… Before we lost the thin thread of family connection in the race for the newest gadget, those children would grow into adulthood remembering and retelling Uncle Jake’s story. Their own children would sit quietly at their feet, hoping the adults wouldn’t notice it was long past the youngsters’ bedtime. The young would revel in hearing the shenanigans pulled by their own parents. They would feel a part of those who had gone before them.
Do you have family stories that your children and grandchildren have never heard? Do you share those stories? Or are you waiting until you’re older?
Well, you’re older today than you were yesterday. And none of us knows how much longer we have.
It’s not too early to think about writing down those stories your grandpa told you, or to memorialize your great-grandmother’s tale of her life during the Civil War. It’s not too early to share the story of your first fish, your first crush, or your first job.
September 9th is Grandparents Day. Instead of looking for a gift from your grandkids, why not create the gift of your story for them?
If you’re a writer, you have an advantage and a head start on the project. You’re already a storyteller. This world needs storytellers. Your children and grandchildren need your stories.
Share a family story with your children and grandchildren this Grandparents Day. And do leave a comment and share a story given you by your parents of grandparents.