“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” –Muriel Rukeyser
“Mom,” my thirteen year old says, “tell the story of how when you were camping as a kid, a big raccoon walked into your campsite while you were sitting around the campfire and your brother’s friend jumped up on the chair and screamed and threw marshmallows at it…” She loves to hear that story. I oblige, even though she’s practically told the whole story already. There must be something about the way I tell it.
My eight year old loves it when I tell stories about the static electricity “zap fights” my brother and I used to have when we were kids. We had this thick rust-colored living room rug, and we used to scuff our slippered feet around the rug, chasing each other in circles until we could “zap” the other one. If one of us was feeling brave, we’d scuff over to the steel beam that ran along one wall, touching that to see the blue spark fly out of our finger.
I wonder if they like to hear these stories because they want to picture what my life was like as a kid? Or do they want to know how things were different “back then”? Or maybe they find comfort in the fact that some things stay the same across the generations– campfires with family and friends, siblings chasing each other… Our stories are how we connect with each other, how we make sense of who we are.
There are stories I like to hear my parents tell. My Grandpa (my dad’s father), who died before I was born, attended school where his dad was the principal. He loved his job as a naval architect and the hill where he built their house used to be covered with apple trees, and my dad remembers their sweet smell.
I remember the stories of how my Grammy (mom’s mom) left her home at age sixteen to live on her own. I think of how brave and determined she must have been, with only the money for a train ticket, to set out for somewhere new.
I wonder what stories my kids will remember from their childhood, and want to share with their families and friends. My sixteen year old may tell about how this was the year she danced her first solo in competition, and was awarded a spot on the Nationals Dance team for her performance. Or about how she got her first job, her driving permit, or played Violet Bick in the school play “It’s a Wonderful Life.” My thirteen year old may tell about her first solo in The Nutcracker, how she finally got her braces off, and how she played the “Clare Oddbody, angel, second-class” in the same play. My eight year old will surely remember our week long trip to Washington DC as the highlight of his year. He will talk about all the amazing things he saw at the Air and Space Museum, and how he got to touch the Washington Monument.
I will remember all of that, but also the smaller moments: the look on my little one’s face as he rode the subway for the first time. And how it took me months to realize he was calling it “Aron’s Space Museum.” And the look of concentration on his face as he performed his carefully rehearsed magic tricks for us one Sunday afternoon.
I’ll remember the look of wonder on my eldest’s face as we emerged from the train station in New York City, a trip for her sixteenth birthday. I will remember the June night she brought her guitar outside, as we sat around the fire pit, playing softly for us.
I’ll remember the hours my middle one spent making Snickers cupcakes “just because”, and how we couldn’t get enough of them. I will remember how she said, “Thank you for taking care of me,” as I touched her fever-flushed face, when she was sick with pneumonia this month.
My husband would tell me he will remember most those quiet moments when all five of us were together: eating take-out in our hotel room in Washington DC after a 10-mile walking day, finding our way through the corn maze in Maine, quiet family movie nights.
It will always be easy to tell the stories about the big moments. But I believe some of our best stories are in the small moments of our lives. Stripped down, no pretense, no cameras or stage lights, that’s where the substance of who we really are shines through.
I will remember. I will listen. I will share.
“Story is the song line of a person’s life. We need to sing it and we need someone to hear the singing. Story told. Story heard. Story written. Story read creates the web of life in words.” (Christina Baldwin from “Story Catcher.”)
From our home and heart to yours, we wish you the very Merriest of Christmases, with lots of good stories to share.