Since man formed his first vocabulary, family and tribal news was carried from tribe to tribe, village to village by a storyteller. They would be welcomed in each cave, hut, or council house as an honored guest and nights would be spent around the fire listening to the latest news from family members living afar. Famine, a good harvest, movement of wild herds, warring tribes, births, deaths, alliances, all were carried by the professional storyteller. After a few days passed the news had been told and the storyteller, rested and refreshed, would move to the next tribe or settlement.
While growing up in the mid-fifties my mother (certainly a modern-day storyteller) would tell me the stories of her and eleven siblings growing up in the forests of Tumwater, Washington. The story of my mother’s sister, Ivah, cutting off her eyebrows in retaliation. When all the kids were down with seafood poisoning and a dairy cow wandered into the yard crying to be milked (milk being the remedy for stomach disorders). Another of my mother’s sisters’ panties falling down around her ankles while dancing at her first dress-up dance.
I believe that these oral histories, as told by the elders of our families will soon (if not already) be a thing of the past. Whenever I have the opportunity, whether it’s teaching a class on writing and storytelling or giving a lecture on same, I relate how important it is for each of us to record our own family’s rich history. When grandparents are gone, the stories are gone with them. My family story, whose origin began in Ireland and France, was great material for my writing. One stage script and now I am working on my second novel, Wild Violets, about my mother, as a young entrepreneur, flapper and owner of a speakeasy, in San Francisco in the 1920’s.
These family stories are some of my most precious, prized possessions!
Journaling is a great way to express your most private thoughts; opinions and thoughts you can’t convey to anyone else. And reading what you have written is sometimes very cathartic and healing.
In this day of television, DVDs, and computers with games and tricks these stories, handed down from elder to child, will be lost forever. Do YOU know some great stories that you were told as a child?
Photo Credit: Rory MacLeod