My father was a true story teller who could entertain an audience for hours on end without repeating a story twice. A huge part of his ability to capture the attention of his audience was the way he expressed himself through voice modulation, body language and animated facial features. It made people believe he was reliving the experience with them. He had the ability to transport people through their imagination and they believed they had been right there with him … he’d recount seeing a bull moose as his palms slammed together in a mighty clap and his voice emphasized the “whoomp!” the angry moose made before it charged. People sat on the edge of their seat, firmly engrossed with every word. It was incredible to watch, and even more amazing to see how people responded to the stories he told. It occurred to me, after one family reunion, how these stories would be lost unless someone sat down and actually recorded them. By the time the thought came to me, my Dad was really sick and those stories were no longer with him. He had regressed to a time when he thought he should be with his parents and siblings living at Candle Lake. In his mind, he lived in a time before he contracted and beat Polio. His siblings were young and still in school and his parents were alive, living in their original homestead. My Dad never left that place in his mind, so when his heart finally gave out, he had been gone for a long time. The day of his funeral, my cousins and Uncle played a video recording of my father from a time when he was still healthy – I had forgotten what his voice sounded like. It was a rush of emotions to hear him so full of life and laughing as he became the storyteller for the evening. I imagine that is how he and his family spent a lot of their time growing up without cell phones, lap top computers and television to occupy their time; there were far more entertaining ways to fill the leisure time that included spending quality time with family and friends.
My Mother is an equally entertaining story teller but her words are more effectively absorbed through turning pages rather than retold in spoken word. Her ability to recall details and names is mind boggling. Unfortunately, the things she’d like to remember most, such as details recalling her birth mother whom she has not seen or heard from in 75 years, evade her. Those memories lay in the shadows of her memory, foggy from the emotional rollercoaster life can become sometimes. Today she saw a name advertised on one of the construction vehicles driving around Prince Albert and it triggered a memory from when her older sister got married. A certain family had been invited to the celebration. The men were known to them as they attended school together. The boys had a reputation of being smart but a little wild. The school teacher, my grandfather, took the boys under his wing and spent extra time with them. When they were old enough they fought in the war and returned. Needless to say, there was a special bond formed between my mother’s family and this family. One of the young men came to the wedding driving a soft top convertible, his first car and a symbol of the success he had become since leaving school. He met with my grandfather; they spent time recounting their history together and he took my grandfather for a drive in his car. By this time, the young man was 28 years old and he’d begun working for SaskPower. Two weeks after the wedding, he was found dead, still strapped to the pole he’d been working on. He’d had a massive heart attack.
Stories such as these are basically lost today because a lot of us haven’t learned to stop and turn off our laptops and telephones. Somewhere along the way, progress has taught us to become disengaged from actually speaking and listening to one another. One of my pet peeves, when I’m visiting with someone, is watching them mentally check out of our conversation as they think of what they should say next. It feels like conversation has become a competition of who has the best story to ‘one up’ the other that has just been told. Do you remember what it was like to visit with someone and just enjoy the natural lull that happened in the middle of the conversation? To me, those were always the best times. In those moments bonding took place as the logs crackled in the wood stove, tea cooled in the mugs, snow fell softly like feathers, the rain gently showered the flowers with nutrients and the wind blew outside the windows while stew gently bubbled on the stove top and bread baked in the oven. It wasn’t unheard of to even fall asleep for a while and just sit in silence until one, or both of you, woke up. These will always be the best parts of my childhood memories. The stories my parents told helped me to envision my grandparents, three of which I’ve never met but I feel like I know them. And I should know them as they are an integral part of my DNA and play a huge role in the woman I’ve become. They contribute to my gift of being a writer and story teller now. My grandparent’s stories are as much a part of me as their children have been in creating me. And I love how their stories help me to feel like I am a greater part of a family that is stronger than the family ties I have with my mother and father. The stories of my ancestor’s lives truly help me feel like they are alive and we are family still. There is an incredible sense of humility and love that comes with this familial bond of belonging.
As 2019 quickly passes us by I challenge you to set aside your social media, electronics and anything else which occupies your time and takes you away from family. Pour a mug of hot tea and listen to the stories your Mom and Dad, grandparents, Aunts and Uncles have to tell. You’ll be amazed by how much you have in common and how relatable your relatives are to you. There is so much more to the stories they have to tell … there is a family bonding experience that truly brings you to the heart of who you are. And one day soon, it’s your stories the next generation will be pulling up a seat eager to hear. Do your best to not be like me, who learned a little too late, and didn’t record the stories being shared with me. Now I must rely on my memory to truly understand how stories are the heart of the family.
Have a wonderful week, everyone.