Humans have been passing down stories for as long as we have roamed the earth. However, during the past few decades, as life has sped up, we’ve found that we often don’t have the time to share stories. Older generations usually don’t live with younger generations and there isn’t time for talking around the dinner table or on the front porch. Several projects have been started to encourage people to document the stories of their elders. Starbucks even has stories as its theme this holiday season: Stories are Gifts – Share. For Christmas several years ago I gave my uncle a tape recorder and blank tapes, asking that he use them to tell me the stories of his and my father’s youth. They had a harrowing story of leaving their hometown in their teens to return to Finland, their parents’ birthplace, and finding themselves, instead, in Russia, starving and cold, with no money. They eventually returned to the U.S. without their mother, who had not yet become a citizen. I’d heard bits and pieces of the story as I grew up, but I really wanted to hear from him the entire story, with more details. When my uncle died, I found the tape recorder and tapes – untouched.
Stories are part of the root system we pass on to our children. I’ve always understood that the stories I was told as a child helped me to know who I am, but I’ve always looked at the storyteller as being the elder, the one with the experiences. Last week, as my daughter-in-law and I were discussing the Christmas tree she and my son had picked out. My daughter-in-law said, “Debbie, I would like it if sometime you’d come over and explain to me all about Jarrod’s ornaments because he doesn’t know their stories.” Each of my children has their own Christmas tree as they grow up and ornaments are added each year. When my oldest son married, we no longer put up his small tree and, instead, passed his collection of ornaments on to him and his wife. I was thrilled that my daughter-in-law wants to know the stories behind the ornaments, but this was definitely an OMG moment. Like it or not, feel like it or not, I am the elder! I am the keeper of the stories.