Volume 15, Issue 6: Femina
Though a family has many collective memories of travels or holidays, birthdays and games, a big chunk of the
culture and history of the family is its stories. These may be stories of things that really happened, made-up stories
improvised at bedtime, or they may be the stories in books that were read around the table, on the couch, on the back porch, or
out in the yard.
My children can't think of Lorna Doone
without remembering the men's retreat at Star Ranch where I read it to
them for hours on end while their father was teaching. I can't think of the
Chronicles of Narnia or Tolkien's Lord of the
Rings without seeing in my mind's eye the bright red-hot cheeks of my son while he listened intently to the battle scenes. I
can still see three little kids lined up on top of their father while he was stretched out on the couch reading, reading,
reading. And one summer he read the whole Tolkein triology aloud (again) to us, each night reading until he got hoarse. But
the kids just wouldn't let him stop. While we traveled to Nebraska for a family reunion, we listened to the BBC tapes of
the triology. We had to carefully portion them out so we could make them last the whole trip.
When my daughter had a bout with late-night croup, we would read
Chatterer the Red Squirrel while sitting on the
dryer in the bathroom with the shower steaming. That squirrel is an important part of our history. We drank Coke, read,
and steamed together until she could breathe well enough to go back to sleep. (I know, I know, why were we drinking
Coke in the middle of the night? Because it was a fun thing to do.)
But we weren't completely stuck in Narnia and Middle Earth. We came to love the hilarious stories about
Penrod and the great tar fight; we became fast friends with Bertie Wooster (and Uncle Fred); and we laughed over the
"first deer" as told by Patrick McManus. Now my husband reads those same short stories to the college students on
Friday nights when they come over for an evening of fellowship, singing psalms, and readings. Every young person really
must become acquainted with Penrod and Uncle Fred.
I think P.G. Wodehouse is probably responsible more than we know for the humor in Credenda. Too
much Wodehouse gets a person to think a little sideways. It has certainly contributed to my own children's descriptions
and storytelling. They could not go to the grocery store or the mailbox without coming back with a story. I still remember
the story of the man in a three-piece suit on old-fashioned roller skates coming down a very steep hill at full speed with
his commuter coffee cup and screeching to an elegant stop at the traffic light at the bottom. I never saw it with my own
eyes, but my children told me the story in elaborate detail. Life is full of such interesting characters on roller skates in
Each night around the dinner table we were prepared to hear stories about school. The time Carl accidentally
lit himself on fire; how Jamin's little brother jumped off the swing and broke both wrists; the time Nathan opened a
locker to check on some noise and found a little boy "hiding from school"; the many bus breakdown episodes on the way
to track meets. The list goes on and on. Stories surrounded my children on all sides, and they had to jostle and jockey to
get to the front of the line to tell us their
story. Sometimes my husband had to tell them what order to go in so they
would calm down!
If you think about the guests you have had to your home, the most interesting ones are those who tell stories.
Of course there were times we had to tell our kids to quiet down. But they have rescued us several times when we've
had ultra-quiet guests. They can go on and on and recall with great detail all kinds of silly stories of things that have
happened to them. And they can tell their favorites over and over. Once my daughter and I went to a social event that
turned out to be much smaller than expected, and everyone there was very quiet. She told me later, "Mom, I felt it was one
of those times when I should use my gifts." So she launched into telling stories and livened the whole thing up.
Now that they are not at my table every night, I have had to pick up the pace. I miss their story-telling. But
now when they tell stories, it is about their own children. Like the time Knox was heading off to my house in the early
morning hours, pulling Jemima in the wagon (in her diaper). Must have been an angel that woke my daughter up with a start.
She jumped out of bed, threw on her clothes on the way down the stairs, never looking in the kids' bedroom, and flew out
the door just in time to see them heading down the street!
The most embarrassing stories were the ones I made up at bedtime when my children were very small. Stupid
really. But the kids loved them. They were usually about animals that could talk and very small little boys who lived in the
trees. Their own storytelling surpassed mine long ago. And now I am telling those same silly stories to my grandchildren.
But better yet, they are telling their own stories now with wide eyes