What are your family stories? Is there a keeper of the words? Do you have a designated holder of all the wild tales, sad occurrences and flat-out lies that have been running around your family for years? Stories are the bonds that keep us close, show that we are members, instruct us on how we learn from and with our elders.
Once, when I was in my twenties, many of my family members were home for a change, probably for a birthday or holiday, I forget what. Being the middle child meant some of my nine siblings were grown, married and usually gone while several were still at home being teenagers, college kids and wastrels.
We were hanging around the living room, a few grandbabies toddling around, a few arguments over who was getting the car that night, and many laughs about old shenanigans. My father pulled out ten bucks to pay back my brother Matt who had just gotten back from the store. My sister Laurie said, “Hey, you owe me ten bucks for gas,” so Matt gave it to her. Laurie then looked at brother Mike and said “Here’s part of the 20 bucks I owe you,” and gave it to him.
Michael tried to get away but our big brother, Patrick said, “Pizza the other night…remember?” and the 10 bucks went from Mike to Pat.
Patrick then looked at my dad and said “Bet you thought I’d never pay you back for lunch yesterday,” and now my dad had his crisp, green ten dollar bill back. Within three minutes debts were paid, tears of laughter shed and my dad had the ten bucks back in his large, worn pocket.
It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t thought out, but it is now a part of the family lore. Unfortunately, I don’t really know how the above happened because none of us wrote it down and we kind of know who was involved and know it was ten bucks but not why or when or who started it. The details I made up because I can’t remember. Hey, I’m a storyteller and making a point here. Someone should have written it down.
And that is the important stuff in stories, the details. Would that paragraph have been as interesting if it said, “Once a ten dollar bill got passed around my family until it got back to my dad, clearing debts as it went”? No, it wouldn’t. We need to assemble our family stories. Whether we realized it or not at the time, just that one little story is about honor, gratitude, reciprocity, and respect, as well as fun and paying one’s debts. It is a story to tell our children when they don’t want to share or give up their quarters to their sister.
Keeping our family’s stories safe is about sharing, with just us or the world. There are many ways we can do this today; journals, recordings, video, online sites; and we will explore them over the next few months. We will discuss how important a story is, and has been. We will discuss how you can quiet a room simply by stating, “Oh, man, have I got a story to tell…”
You can contact Eileen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First in a Series for Keeping Your Family’s Stories Alive