“We’re not the only ones who carry our memories. The people around us, who share in our experiences, have their own version of events saved away. And when we tell a story to a loved one, we’re giving them a piece of our lives. We scatter memories like seeds, letting them take root in the people who care enough to listen.” – From the article Searching for Mr. X by Laura Todd Carns, an interesting piece about a man with amnesia.
That quote reached out and slapped me as I read the article. I’d never heard it put quite that way, but a person’s stories do give you a real glimpse into their lives. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to read and hear stories. The reading part started with my parents. They taught us at a very early age to respect books. We were not allowed to treat them like toys, because they were special. When we were young, as long as we were in our beds reading, we were allowed to stay awake for an extra hour. For me, that meant reading EVERY night and pretty much any time I was sitting still in the daytime, too. In the pages of a book, I could go anywhere in the universe; I could learn about life in any country or timeframe; I could see things from another point of view. That’s powerful! Grandma Sara Banks contributed to my love of stories, too. In addition to sharing many great ones, she gave me a subscription to Reader’s Digest when I was in my early teens and renewed it for years. I’m now 58, and she is still influencing me every month when I read the new issue of my now 45ish-year subscription.
As much as I’ve always enjoyed reading, my favorite stories by far are those told by family and friends. I’ll be honest…sometimes they didn’t know they were telling them to me, specifically. As a child, when my parents had company and I couldn’t fall asleep, I would sit in the hallway and listen. Yes, I was a little eavesdropper, which also included listening in on Grandma’s party line when we visited. Man, those ladies had some stories to tell! I grew out of the sneaking around, but not the stories. I loved hearing how Great Aunt Madolyn and Uncle George met in Front Royal, Virginia, in 1941. They were quite audacious for the time, and listening to her tell it was wonderful. It was even more meaningful retold by Uncle George several years after Aunt Madolyn died. He was smiling with little tears in his eyes as he recounted seeing that beautiful woman on the street and instantly vowing to marry her almost 70 years before. I remember Great Uncle John talking about the father of a childhood friend who fought in the Civil War (seriously…John was born in 1886 and lived to be 101) and sharing the secret to living a long, fulfilling life (daily naps, long walks and puzzles to keep the brain active). Mr. Wonderful’s (MW’s) Grandmother told us about entertaining Wernher Von Braun in her home in Huntsville, Alabama. Who knows?! The cigarette burn on our coffee table might be from him! MW’s Bonus Dad, Buddy, honored me by explaining what all of his medals from Vietnam meant and how he got them, something he rarely talked about. From my parents there have been hundreds of stories about their families, growing up, raising us, and all kinds of other stuff. My Mom can take me with her to the VFW dance floor in Brunswick, Georgia, where she went with her parents every weekend long before I came along. Her sweet partner, Harris, who taught her most of her dance moves, died tragically at 27 in a truck accident a little over a year before I was born. It was her first real lesson in loss. More recently, as we sat around campfires and across picnic tables, I heard many awesome accounts from a whole cadre of retired Naval and Marine Corps officers, some of America’s finest.
All of that brings to mind a few things: 1) The world has become more and more about staring at screens and communicating with our thumbs. There is growing evidence that screen time is addictive, which is not news to anyone who has been up late at night scrolling through Facebook when every part of their body is saying “GO. TO. SLEEP!” We have become a “selfie” world, with an inward focus. More online time means less face-to-face, and the art of conversation is rapidly disappearing in the younger crowd. That does not bode well for the sharing of stories and passing down of family lore. It is the job of family and friends to counter that. Ask questions. Have “no electronics” times in your house. Play board games. I’m sure there are a million things, all blissfully absent of our internet tethers, to get the stories flowing. 2) While we have treasured family and friends around, we need to listen. Gathering and sharing their stories keeps them with us later and shares pieces with those not lucky enough to have met them. 3) Memory is a tricky thing. Mine has always been a bit fickle. I used to know my American Express number by heart, which MW said was a very bad sign. However, I sometimes can’t remember what I had for breakfast. Sadly, the stories fade with time. I had the presence of mind to record Uncle George’s beautiful story, but sadly, did not record Buddy’s. Although it was only a few years ago, I cannot remember the specifics of the medals, and it is too late to ask. With their permission, of course, try to record, either digitally or in writing, your family’s lore. You’ll really appreciate it down the road. 4) Along that same vein, pictures are great, but hearing the voice of a loved one after they are gone is a wonderful thing. Granddaddy Harrison used to have a reel-to-reel recorder sitting on a shelf in the corner of the kitchen, where everyone gathered in their house. He would turn that on and let it run while all of the aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, parents, cousins, etc., visited. (No privacy problems…everyone knew.) He liked to play them back when the house was quiet and we were all off living our lives. Many years ago my Mom had the tapes converted and gave us all digital copies. I used to play them when I sat at the computer working. That wasn’t good, though. Whatever task I was supposed to be focussed on came to a screeching halt as I was suddenly a child back in Grandma’s kitchen. I am so grateful to him for those recordings. Through them, I can hear lots of stories, singing, and fun, including my Great Grandmother Harrison’s voice and laughter. (She died at 101 years old when I was 23 and already had both of my children. I have a great, 5-generation picture that I will share one day when I figure out where I packed it.) Many years ago I started keeping sweet or funny voicemails left by my family and friends. (I convert them to digital voice files.) After my Dad’s sudden death in 2019, at a time when I was particularly missing our long conversations, I scrolled through my little list. There I found the priceless birthday message he left in 2015. Quite possibly the only recording of him singing even one line, I enjoy hearing it every once in a while. It just makes me smile. Like a good story, it is another way to keep those we love near.
I’m lucky in that I seem to be a story magnet. MW says there must be something about my face that says “talk to me”. LOL. Many years ago, I was headed to pick him up from work for lunch. On the way, I popped into Kmart’s “going out of business” sale. Heading out the door, I was greeted by a very nice, elderly black man. He just walked right up and opened with “I love coming here. It’s a shame they are closing the place.” Before I could really even respond, he launched into his story. He had retired and was bored staying at home. Truth be told, he said, his wife really got a little irritated with him hanging around the house doing nothing. She was a “doer”. So he started coming to Kmart every day, spending his time chatting up strangers and getting in some walking. He knew most of the employees by name, and they waved as they passed. He interspersed his story with questions about mine and was such a nice old gentleman that I was totally immersed in the conversation. Twenty minutes later, I looked at my watch. “Oh my goodness! It was so nice to meet you, but I’m REALLY late to pick up my husband!” I ran to the car as he headed in to find his next story. I apologized to MW when I arrived and told him an old man stopped me to talk at Kmart. He was not at all surprised. I can’t remember that man’s name and am sure he is long gone, but he is alive in my memories and now you have a little part of him, too.
I like to tell stories. Honestly, sometimes I share TOO MUCH, but to MW’s chagrin, that is who I am. I appreciate you for reading this post and following along on the path. We all have stories…simple and detailed, good and bad, funny and sad…and they are the atoms that make up our lives. Be sure to share yours, and not just on social media. (Of course, if you would like to add some here in the comments, I would not be at all opposed!)
Hope you have a great day! Oh yeah…the pic at the top is just a little bit of fall in Appalachia for you. See you on the path!
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