Tell Your Children Stories

April 21, 2013 at 12:25 pm (Life, Memoir) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I walked to get groceries yesterday. I was feeling a little sorry for myself, the cast is annoying me, and I feel all alone with my troubles. I had walked through the park and past a fence when something caught my eye – a slogan graffiti-ed onto a white fence.

Make Love Not War, it said, and beside it was the ubiquitous peace symbol.  Peace

And I remembered…

When did I first see this symbol and hear this slogan?

For me, it goes back to the Vietnam War, when I was a teenager.

When I thought the solutions were simple.

I never marched. I listened to the peace anthems, I avoided the television news and I thought war was like an episode of M*A*S*H – easily solved.

I was naive. How many wars have we had since then? Why didn’t I march?

Why did seeing this yesterday on a white fence (someone still believes) make me smile?

These are my stories. Will anyone ever ask for them? Will anyone ever care what my life was like?

I have no children to embarrass with my tales, my memories, and my life. I tell my stories here into the endless void.

Peace Window

Do you tell your children stories?

Do they know what your traditions are? If you light candles at the window, do they know why? I walk. Why do I walk? The stories are numerous.

Do they know your family history? Who was Uncle Fred? Why did he live with Grandma Smith? Who is Grandma Smith to me?

My father died this week. I know fewer of his family stories because I did not grow up in his house. I know more of my mother’s stories.

Grandma Smith was related to my father; I think she was his mother’s mother or step-mother. I do not know. I knew my father’s parents but not well even to be gifted with their stories.

I was a quiet child. I read more than I talked. I never asked the right questions.

There are gaps in my family history and now I will never know what he could have told me.

Fairy Toadstools

The first stories I read were fairy tales – we had a copy of the Red Fairy book by Andrew Lang – a Christmas gift from I know not who. I’d like to know.

I read somewhere once that you should tell your children both stories; that they need to know all of it. They need to know mother’s stories and father’s stories or they will go through life unbalanced and out of sorts.

I am the child of a broken home – I grew up in my mother’s house and don’t remember meeting my father until I was almost a teenager. My mother never spoke of my father and her parents hated him. His parents lived close by and stayed involved in our lives but kept secrets – like where he was. Plus, it was obvious that we were not the favoured grandchildren.

It doesn’t matter who my father was;
It matters who I remember he was.

Anne Sexton

Elementry School

I don’t know if my father attended the same elementary school that I did? Did he like to run up the fire escape? Did he climb up on the roof? I suspect he would have; he was that kid of boy – reckless and adventuress.

I don’t know!

I don’t know his stories. I hear rumours. I hear snippets – who died in the fire, how were they related to me – I know they were important to him!

I don’t know who he was as a child, a teenager, a new parent or why he felt he had to leave the way he did.

I don’t know and now I’ll never know.

Weekend Reads

My dad did not tell me his stories. My Dad did not read to me. But he understood why I read. He understood that stories were important to me.

I didn’t tell him out loud – instead I wrote him poems and sent them through the mail (accusations, recriminations, apologies –  silent, deadly love letters). He never answered them but I have confirmation that he kept them and maybe treasured them. I wanted him to write back. I wanted him to tell me stories. He wasn’t ready when I was ready.

While we pay lip service to the virtues of reading,
the truth is that there is still in our culture
something that suspects those who read too much…

How Reading Changed My Life
Anna Quindlen

Open the Door

My father fell and broke his leg days before I broke my wrist.

He had surgery and seemed to be doing fine.

My eldest sister and I just went to see him.

He told us stories.

He told us about throwing a sixty pound bag of potatoes at my mother’s mother. I could picture it happening – they were both stubborn people who needed to be right and neither would have given an inch to the other.

And he told a story that I already knew, a story that my mother had already told me, about me.

She tells my story, thusly:

I was born overseas on an army base. When mom and dad headed back to Canada they had trouble proving I was theirs – Mom had been pregnant when they left Canada and so had papers for my older sisters but not me. She says that they almost didn’t let me on the plane with them. She never elaborated further then this but obviously they let me on the plane because here I am.

He says the trouble didn’t happen until we were on Canadian soil. He said we were held up at Customs by the custom’s officer. There my dad stood holding me (a cranky, stinky, fussy one year old) as we were questioned about who I belonged to. My dad basically said to the custom’s agent “if you want her, you can have her” and the agent waved us through – because obviously no one wants a fussy, stinky baby to deal with.

What I note are the differences in their stories about the same incident – how she leaves the story unfinished and he makes himself the hero. The way they tell the story reinforces what I already know about my parents. How, at that point in her life, she was looking for someone as capable as her own father always was and how he (then and now) was always the hero of his own story – right and capable against all odds.

Perhaps there no such thing as a true story,
just the echoes between different versions,
and the desire to know, that keeps us speaking,
and listening, at all…

Honey and Ashes: A Story of Family
Janice Kulyk Keefer

Wishing Well

So, tell your children your stories. Even when they groan and moan and roll their eyes, they are listening.

As a parent, as a grandparent, in my role as an aunt – it is our responsibility to make sure that they know both sides so that they do not go through life unbalanced and out of sorts.

In even the best of caskets, it never all fits
– all that we’d like to bury in them:
the hurt and forgiveness, the anger and pain,
the praise and thanksgiving, the emptiness and exaltations,
the untidy feelings when someone dies (p. 191)

The Undertaking: Life Studies From the Dismal Trade
Thomas Lynch


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