Friday, April 10, 2009

storytelling

I come from a family of storytellers. When I think of good family time, I picture each of my siblings sprawled out in my parent's living room - Erin is usually getting her head rubbed by Mom, Jason is generally getting his back rubbed by me and Nick is either telling a great story or waiting his turn to tell another. And Dad? He is either sitting in his green wing-back chair laughing at us, wandered off to the computer to play Hearts or gone to bed because our storytelling sessions generally run quite late.

Our stories traditionally center on the ordinary details of life, except that one time when it was sort of tweaked. The story isn't always about the subject, more about the delivery. Kind of like blogging.

We especially love to reminisce about our shared childhoods and each of us has a story or two that is a family favorite - one that is told over and over again and often the details are debated. I think my mom loves these because she learns about when we snuck out or hid something from her or how often we ditched school.

We come by this storytelling talent (can I call it a talent if it really only appeals to us as a group?) naturally. Our maternal grandfather is an epic storyteller. The only problem is his stories start somewhere in the middle and meander their way out to the edges and are often interspersed with phrases such as "well you know [fill in the blank with some unknown name], she's your cousin" or was your mom's dentist's kid or the neighbor's brother or something equally remote. If the story isn't about some old time St. George family, it will be about the truck wreck that happened "up the road" or that time in the navy when they had to turn around in that harbor somewhere near Taiwan. His are the stories that take some investigative work on the part of the listener to tease out to completion.

I believe his influence gives us the desire to talk and tell a story. But it is my dad's side that really pushes us to fall into oral narrative. I grew up with my dad telling us fishing stories from his youth, you know the kind where the fish was T H I S big! My favorite though was the one about my grandfather throwing a fish at a bear . . . I really need to get more of the details on that one because it is pretty hilarious. But as I have gotten older and had a different perspective on my dad and his two siblings, I have discovered his siblings are just like him. But it isn't just about stories, it is about being the one with the most knowledge on a certain subject - whether you are faking it or not. And believe me, sometimes they fake it. And they fake it well. They are a family of competitors and that spills over into the storytelling. When one tells a story, the next has a bigger, better, funnier, more outlandish one to tell.

Last August I sat with my grandmother at her kitchen table for the last time - and somehow I knew it was the last time. My uncle was there and he started telling his version of some family stories about my grandparents, my dad and my aunt. One of the stories was even about how he had to prove himself right with an encyclopedia. I wish I could remember the details. It was wonderful how the three of us laughed together.

That shared laughter, reminiscence, showmanship, competetiveness and bonding is what I believe pulls my family together. Sometimes our storytelling sessions are hilarious and we are all laughing and talking over one another trying to top the worst date or the worst job or the nuttiest testimony we heard in church. Other times our late night talks are more poignant and reveal deep emotions related to difficult trials that can lead to tears. I cherish them all.

When my siblings and I first started scattering ourselves hither and yon, we (or at least I) missed what we have simply termed "bonding time." My first year of law school I lived about 45 minutes away, both Erin and Jason lived at home and Nick lived 20 minutes in the opposite direction. We would all converge at home for Sunday dinner and land on the cozy overstuffed living room couches to talk. It would quickly grow late and Jason would plead with me to ignore the clock on the piano that was now approaching midnight and just spend the night. Sometimes he was successful, but most of the time I ended up driving back to my place very late at night.

When Jason left on a mission during my second year of law school we all had to adjust to his absence on Sunday nights. We filled the void by writing letters - I sent him a letter at least once a week for two years and he learned more about my life during those two years than he ever wanted to know. But we also kept up the oral storytelling by exchanging tapes. The best probably being the one (or two?) Nick and Erin and I made as we drove across the country recounting our ups and downs on a small dictaphone to send to our brother in Italy.

With me on the East Coast and Jason in Italy our bonding sessions were relegated to phone calls and email. And when I moved back to Salt Lake for a time and Jason came home, Nick moved himself to Oregon and we were still short on Sunday evenings.

But somewhere along the way, Nick and I started emailing each other. And in those emails we turned the mundane details of our lives into entertainment. And to make this needlessly long story short, yesterday as I was searching my email archives for something I never found, I ran across some of our exchanges. Which means, for your entertainment, I will be posting (without his permission) some of the treasured stories from several years back. And believe me, there are some absolute gems you will not want to miss. We will call him a guest blogger. Hopefully if I delve a little deeper into old emails and files and letters I can find more. I'll schedule the first one to post tomorrow morning while I am flying to Boston to have some bonding with my youngest brother Jason, his wife and my darling niece.

2 comments:

Tiffany said...

I can't wait! I love a good story. Have a safe trip to Boston!

Ma said...

I have really missed the "bonding time" and the laughter. You can all tell a pretty good story.

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