- Books, Literature, and Writing
Preserving Your Family Stories
Front Porch Sitting
I am old enough to remember sitting on Papa Tom’s front porch where family gathered on Sunday afternoons. The grownups drank Cocoa Colas and sat in the green wicker chairs and talked. We children were warned not to swing too high in the porch swing or we’d tip it over, and of course we did and it did - once. In fact sitting on the front porch after supper was a nightly ritual in the summertime. My family didn’t have a porch, but our landlady had a big screen-in porch and she often invited us over. But usually it was Papa Tom’s front porch where we gathered most often. He lived two doors down. That porch stretched across the entire width of the big house and had sofa-sized wicker swings at both ends. Those swings were the location of many relaxed hours of gentle swaying.
Chasing Lightning Bugs
Conversation on the front porches started out with the sharing of the week’s activities, how hot it was, how hard they’d worked. As the sun began to drop in the sky and the air was cooled by gentle breezes the talk turned to family matters and we children turned to playing in the yard, chasing lightning bugs and each other. We were called back to the porch as it grew darker and that is when the real story telling would start. I was fascinated by the telling of strange phenomenon such as ghostly lights and fire balls that rolled through houses during storms. Our elders relished in telling stories about their crazy or notorious relatives, true ghost stories and not so true tales of monsters and goblins. We children had our favorites and often made requests.
Story Telling a Lost Art?
I am afraid the art of story telling is becoming lost. Families gather around the TV or computer for a different sort of story telling now. Truth be told, gathering doesn’t happen all that often either, with a TV in every room and family members dividing to watch separate shows. Electronics have replaced the human bonding that used to take place on the front porch.
The loss of the stories is a loss of family history and culture that can never be regained once our grandparents and other elder family members pass on. I realized that loss after it was too late to ask questions and record some of their stories. I am happy to say my daughter, Dineane, and I did write down many of mama’s ghost stories, but many more yarns are lost forever or the details are so fuzzy they have lost their magic.
The older I get the more I regret the loss of those stories and the more I campaign for folks to preserve their family’s stories while they can. I am even doing workshops to help people do just that - save their family stories. Somehow we have this idea that our grandparents and parents will always be around to tell the stories and answer our questions. We know better, but we don’t think about it. So, now is the time to say to Grandmother, “Tell me the story about the time . . ..” and take notes as she tells it. Ask the questions your grandchildren might ask in fifty years. Do it while you can. Don’t worry if you are not a writer or not a good speller. Don’t worry about grammar. This is not school and in fifty or a hundred years the person reading the story will not care about the mechanics of the writing, only the story it tells.