Thursday, January 19, 2012

Brought Up on Tales

Bill Crider said the other day that he was brought up on tales of the Alamo. Were you brought up on tales? Was there a lot of oral story telling in your home? There was almost none in mine. My parents were not story tellers--even their own stories.

I wonder if story-telling is a Southern thing. Or a ethnic thing. Or a family thing.

My German-Scots-Irish, Pennsylvania background elicited very few stories.

If your family were story tellers, what kind of story did they tell? Family ones? Ones about the area you lived in? Historical stories? I am envious. Tell me your story.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Most Indians of my generation grew up listening to incredible stories about India's independence movement that began in the 19th century and went on till the country was partitioned in June 1947 and became independent two months later. I don't think (and I might be wrong here) there is any other country that produced as many statesmen, visionaries, freedom fighters, revolutionaries, social reformers, and religious leaders as India did—in less than a hundred years and for a single historical event.

Deb said...

I think it depends on the family. My mother was from a very close-knit family and stories of her childhood (hard-scrabble working-class, interrupted by the blitz of London and mandatory evacuation of all children out of the city) filled the childhoods of myself and my siblings. My father, from essentially the same background but from a dysfunctional family, rarely told stories of his childhood. I believe it's the affection and humor in the family structure that makes you want to pass stories on.

For more general stories, I had an English childhood in the 1960s, so all of the history of England was pretty much a source of stories for me.

Charlieopera said...

Family stories, both sides. And when I visit my Mom Sundays I know she brightens up when she gets to revisit those stories so I always ask her, "Ma, tell me about ..."

She's 82 and not in great health, but I know she enjoys reliving some of her past. And I love watcher her brighten up a little; she gets to ignore some of the physical pains that haunt her non-stop otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Patti - I didn't grow up with a lot of story-telling either, actually. And the stories we did hear weren't what you'd call historical tales. Interesting though that those stories are woven into some people's histories.

Al Tucher said...

My parents both told stories of their Depression childhoods. My father could remember seeing Mrs. George Armstrong Custer in Macy's (she was younger than her husband and lived a long life) and watching aged Civil War veterans parading by the thousands on patriotic holidays.

He loved Bill Cosby's reminiscences, because their precariously working class childhoods were so similar.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, stories and stories. A lot were family stories. My father's mother had 10 brothers and sisters (her father was a rabbi in Greenwich Village) and his father came from an intellectual but very eccentric family (think the brothers in UNSTRUNG HEROES). My mother's mother had a restaurant on the Lower East Side where performers from the Yiddish theaters ate regularly.

Maybe it is an ethnic thing after all. (Think the family dinner scene in ANNIE HALL.)

Jeff M.

Charles Gramlich said...

we told some stories. My brothers did mostly. My parents hardly ever did. But we weren't really a story telling family at all.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I think that while many parent may love their kids not as many like their kids. And they are two different things. I love and like my kids and enjoy all of my time with them.

I tell them all sorts of stories. Family stories,stories from when I was growing up. Dumb things I did, good times, bad times. I tell them stories from just a couple of years ago, from when they were younger that they may not remember.

I tell them about books and movies that I liked.

Just this morning they were talking about wrestling and I was regaling them with stories of the wrestlers from when I was a kid. And it was great because hearing those strange names (Jimmy "The Superfly" Snuka; Greg "The Hammer" Valentine) opened up a whole new world for them. Even if for only 10 minutes before the bus came.

I've told them about how my grandfather swallowed a quarter when he was a kid during the depression. And how my brother lost his finger and fought in a war.

I'm the only child who has memories of my grandfather by virtue of being the oldest and I still carry his St. Christopher medal with me wherever I go.

I'm also the keeper of the stories too. Like the time My step-father told the waiter that it was my grandfathers birthday when it really wasn't just to get back at him. Or what it was like standing on the picket line on a day when I was off of school. Or that time that it snowed a lot and my brother and I snuck out of the house after midnight and had a noisy snowball fight in the front yard and got in to trouble. Or, or, or, or.

My father and I are both the historians of different wings of the family and the keepers of photos.

Here's one final one:

My great grandfather was an avid hunter who made his living as a fur trapper who lived in the mountains of Pennsylvania. The kind of guy who would only come in to town a couple of times a year. A real mountain man type.

My grandfather too was an avid and life long hunter. He wasn't a mountain man though. He worked in the oil business for his whole life so he was a few steps more "civilized". He had a hunting lodge though and tried to pass along the Lindenmuth love of hunting to my step-dad.

When he was a kid my grandfather took him hunting. He had a deer in sight and in that moment my step-dad realized that hunting wasn't for him. He didn't want to kill the animal. But he knew that that wasn't an option.

He had a flash of insight to the situation and he saw a way out.

He aimed low.

My grandfather figured he just missed because he was a kid but was happy because he had pulled the trigger. And my step-dad became a "poor hunter" as his eyesight became increasingly worse and stopped going out entirely.

Growing up my step-dad would do most if not all of the cooking and cleaning in our house when I was growing up as well as working full time as a union electrician. He'd go on strike and beat up scabs and those crossing the picket lines so no one could really call him a wimp. But he didn't want to kill that deer.

Maybe one could call it the de-evolution of man or maybe just a running commentary on 20th century gender types in society.

Either way, I love stories. To me stories is just talking and I like talking to my kids.

Anonymous said...

My family is - and always has been - very competitive. We like games - card games, word games, charades - and we play to win. Story telling is another part of this. If you want to be heard no one is going to say, "OK, everyone be quiet, let's hear what little Jimmy has to say." You have to compete for attention by having something to say that can hold the rest of the crowd's attention.

It may not be relaxing but it helps you get ready for the dog-eat-dog world.


Jeff M.

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

My whole world has been saturated with stories for as long as I can remember. Family stories--lots from my mother's foreign childhood (ah, the exoticism!), stories of my father's crazy aunts and uncles--and myths, primarily Greek myths, and tales from Shakespeare, and stories from history (Galileo and the Church and his line--well, imagined by Brecht--"Unhappy is the country that needs heroes"), and movie summaries and stories of what happened during my parents' days. And of course made-up fairy-tale-type stories when I was little, including my mother's story about a dwarf who got his foot caught in a tree and my father's epic series about the seven Bad Ducks. Growing up with two such consummate story-tellers was no doubt the cause of my lifelong addiction to narrative.

J F Norris said...

No legends or lore, just our family's past and some wild adventures only rarely revealed. My father would freely talk about events from his past but it was my reticent mother who surprised me by turning out to be the naturally gifted raconteur in our family. Getting her to tell stories, however, was a chore. The occasion had to be just right and she had to be in one of her more charitable moods. But she loved an audience and told incredibly funny stories of her life. Our Irish blood (her maiden name was Brennan) I think may have something to do with this.

My parents were both born in 1922 and lived through the Great Depression and the later WW2 years in three different states (Connecticut, Florida and Kentucky) I was one of the two surprise children born when they were both in their 40s. I loved hearing about the "old days" I loved listening to their big band records and reading their old books. I was a kid lost in a world of the past - so utterly different from other young people of my generation (the "Me generation" of the 1970s).

My favorite was the story of how my mother first met my father in 1942. Both were working at the Bridgeport offices of General Electric at the time and the way she told it the story came out both romantic and hysterically funny. Like something out of a screwball comedy of the 1930s. I loved it so much that I turned into a story of my own aggrandizing the events and making it something like a mock epic tale and I presented it to them one Christmas. My mother framed the very short story (it fit on a single sheet of typewriter paper) and it's been in hanging in her bedroom ever since. That's the most significant act of love and the biggest symbolic compliment I ever got from my parents in my lifetime.

Jerry House said...

My folks were not much for story-telling; my mother had had a hard childhood and my father was too busy working. I got a lot of local stories from the older people in our village -- which is where I learned that my father had once tipped over an outhouse while the occupant was in it.

Many of the stories I heard were on the strange side: how at a village meeting one man threw a dead squirrel and took out another man's eye, or about how a young transvestite "surprised" a romantically inclined young man one evening in the late 1800s.

The stories from my own younger days are better left unsaid.

Dana King said...

My mother told us family stories, mostly about the Depression and what it was like at home during World War II; my dad, not so much.

My daughter was always after me to tell her stories about my family and college friends when she was up to about ten years old. I obliged her in a way, though I had a hard time coming up with them because, frankly, I don't often feel my life would be of interest to anyone else. I wish I had told her more, even if I didn't think much of them. She may have liked them.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My kids have never had much interest in our childhoods. Maybe it skips a generation.
My parents had difficult childhoods too so maybe that's part of it. My father never talked about serving in WW 2. I think he blanked the whole time out.

Katherine Tomlinson said...

Well, it is definitely a southern thing and my father told the best stories...he'd been raised in a small farming/mining community in Southwest Virginia near the mountain where Daniel Boone's son was killed by Indians. Then he went to war and saw North Africa and India. His motto was "never let the truth get in the way of a good story." He died way too young but he legacy of love and stories he left me will last my lifetime.

George said...

My father was reluctant to talk about his WWII experiences, but when we were kids we'd urge him to tell us the story of how he survived when a kamikazi plane hit his destroyer. My mother used to tell us stories of our relatives in Poland. Around our dinner table each night, we were encouraged to talk about our day in school.

pattinase (abbott) said...

We must have talked at the table but I can't remember it. I had two very quiet parents. Later, my mother became very interested in politics and we talked about that.

Todd Mason said...

Prashant--Italy and Russia might be able to challenge India over that century...though Italy had a similar Single Event (reunification), Russia had several epochal shifts, much as China did...

Patti--impressed that storytelling kids didn't nose around much in family history.

Lots of family history, and a fair amount of jokes and tales, here...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Must have been nice. I regret greatly that I know very little about the family history. And I never heard a joke. If I am making my parents seem grim, that's not fair. They were not self-reflective and thought their pasts were a closed book.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Todd, you have a point. Russia did occur to me at the time though I admit not Italy and China. History textbooks in our schools, colleges and universities are full of unforgettable tales of hundreds of events in the run up to independence. Stories that were handed down to us by our parents and grandparents, and our teachers. Indian literature owes much to the freedom struggle. I guess it's the same with literature of nearly every country. History has enriched the literary world.

Todd Mason said...

And, indeed, Turkey might be contender, too, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the Young Turks' insurgence. And it's not as if the Mexicans, the Spaniards, and just about everyone else, weren't Busy.

Literature is about life, after all, even if codedly...

Patti--no, indeed, though such a taciturn family is slightly alien to my personal experience...