While visiting family in Connecticut the other night, we all found ourselves sitting around a table listening to my wife’s grandmother tell stories. She told stories of trips that she took when my wife was young, stories of trips she took when my father-in-law was young, and stories of trips she took when she was young. We all laughed as mental pictures ran through our minds.
As I sat there at the table listening, I was struck by the fact that I was participating in something special. It was something that has been going on for generations and generations. Stories were being passed on, not by writing them down, but by the oral tradition of storytelling.
I wondered how many people before me had done similarly. Many of them might have done it around campfires or candles or lanterns that barely lit up their meager homes. Here I was taking part in something special.
After my mom and dad died, I didn’t have any major regrets. Our relationships were good and there was nothing between us that had been left unsaid. There was no bitterness or anger, no resentment or animosity, there was simply love, respect, and appreciation. If there was anything that I regretted it was not paying more attention when I came across situations like what happened the other night. I regretted not having asked the millions of questions that run through my mind even now. I regret not having heard, ingested, and memorized the stories that I so desperately wish my parents had passed on to me.
Not too long ago, one of my kids had taken to asking my wife and I to tell him a childhood story every night when we laid down with him before bed. It was a bigger challenge than I thought that it would be. At first, I kind of thought that it was a drag, what did he care what I did when I was his age. Then I began to realize just how important these stories were to him, to the point that I found myself thinking about what story I might tell him that night as I daydreamed throughout my day.
Stories are important to us. We are storied people. We can write things down and pass them on that way, but there is something about the oral tradition. There is something about hearing a story weaved out before you. From my own experience, I think some of my stories grow when they are told orally. The fish might be bigger, the car ride may have been longer, the rain may have been harder, and every detail that I tell may just grow a little bit with each telling of the story. That’s part of the fun of it.
All of this talk of story just solidifies in my mind how important the next few weeks will be for me and my family as we go on our adventure. As we weave our way across the United States, I wonder what stories will stand out the most to my kids. I wonder how they will tell them a few weeks from now, a few months from now, and a few years from now. I wonder how they will grow. I wonder how much longer the journey will get as they pass these stories on to all who will listen.
I’ve got to find a way to remember some more of the stories of my childhood. I know that they’re there in the recesses of my mind, waiting to be mined and dragged from their hiding places. I’ve got to give them some more thought and make sure that I share as many of them as I possibly can, after all, my kids might not always ask me to tell them and there will eventually come a day when I won’t be around to tell them all the things that I never had the chance to.