At the funeral of my friend there were wonderful stories from her children, grandchildren and former students. She was a faithful member of the congregation for over fifty years. The atmosphere moved from sorrow to one of thanksgiving. I was left with a great question. Why do we wait for funerals to share these wonderful stories?
My dad was a great story teller. I relished the saga he told about his asking my grandfather for my mother’s hand in marriage. “Mr. Gossett (my grandfather) was a big man. He was already dressed for bed. Here was this big man wearing a white night shirt and he was barefoot; As tears rolled down his cheeks he said, ‘Well Carnell, if you don’t know how to treat her, you know where you got her.’”
When I was in the third grade my family traveled to Spartanburg for an appointment with my eye specialist. My sister and I were walking ahead of my parents. I heard mother say to dad, “I am not sure I want Mitch to get new glasses. He thinks I am so pretty.”
For a short time when my sister and I were in middle school we boarded my grandparents’ cow. She was a gentle animal, but my sister, Jean, was afraid of her. One day Jean was missing for an hour or two. We finally found her cowering in the barn with the cow standing in front of the door. Jean was afraid to come out.
These are family stories. There is nothing unusual here. They are stories that bind our family together and we need to remember them and share them. The National Day of Listening , the day after Thanksgiving, was created for this reason. by StoryCorps in 2008. We are encouraged to tell and share family stories.
The family had gathered for our annual Christmas dinner. My wife had knocked herself out getting the house ready and preparing a scrumptious meal including the family’s favorite –her macaroni and cheese. She prepared everything except the ham. Our friend Roger gave me directions on how to boil a ham the way his family in New Mexico had always done. His ham was always so delicious that I wanted to try it. I announced my plan to the family and was met with unanimous apprehension. Undaunted, I confidently executed my plan. All afternoon I carefully watched over my masterpiece and was eager to prove all of them wrong.
My ham was a disaster. It was ugly on the platter, the consistency stringy and the taste did remotely remind you of ham, but only remotely. Although my offering turned out to be a culinary disappointment, the merriment that filled the room was spontaneous. There was no end to the light hearted puns and the suggestions as to what might render the ham into something eatable. Even my grandson’s girlfriend got in on the act. My son told me later that he had not seen my sister laugh so hard or enjoy anything so much in years. Everyone let me know that this was one time when father definitely did not know best. I made certain that the ham was soon gone, but the story of this Christmas dinner and dad’s great fiasco will warm our hearts for years to come. There is nothing like warm hearted laughter to cheer the soul.
Your family also has a storehouse of marvelous stories. All it takes is for someone to start the ball rolling. One story quickly follows another. Be intentional about it. Set up a voice or video recorder. If necessary ask a few leading questions. Where did mom and dad meet? What is your favorite childhood memory. Where did our grandparents live before they were married? What was your first memory of Christmas? You will think of others related to your family history.
If your family holds family reunions, send out a request for members to come prepared to share a family story. Another idea is to interview an older person who is reluctant to stand up and talk. What is true for families is also true for other groups. A favorite activity at our Sunday school class’ annual Christmas dinner is the sharing of childhood Christmas memories. These stories break down barriers and turn members into friends.
Stories bind people together. They capture our shared experiences. You will be amazed at how one memory will trigger another one.