One of my favorite stories my grandmother used to tell me was about her and my grandfather’s early courtship. He was a charming, self-assured Southerner, she was a prim and proper Midwesterner at an all-girls’ school. On one of their first dates, as he chauffeured her back home, he got a little too chummy, too soon, as she tells it. “I turned to him and said, ‘I believe you’re mistaking my knee for the gear shift’.” And then my grandmother would burst into one of her signature snort-laughs, a departure from her usual elegant demeanor.
She could be telling me this story at her kitchen table, sipping from her ever-present cup of black coffee, or she could be telling me in the drive-through bank teller line, as I unstuck myself from the leather seats of her Cadillac in the Florida heat, sucking on a cool, square Velamint from her purse. It didn’t matter; I adored it every time. Mostly because of her reaction when she told the story.
Stories are powerful. Most of us might sense that, but research actually backs it up. (I know! There I go again, citing research! I can’t help it. It’s a sickness, I tell you.) For real, though, did you know that children who know about their family’s history are more resilient, have higher self-esteem, and feel a stronger sense of control over their lives?
I don’t really get how it works, either, but I don’t see a downside. And I have noticed, anecdotally, that my own kids LOVE to hear family stories, especially about themselves. “When you were little, you used to call pumpkins ‘cuppies,’” we tell our 7yo. He dissolves into giggles.
“And remember that time when Riley fell through the deck at Mamie and Pop’s and got stuck?” More hilarity ensues. They can’t get enough.
“Mom! Mom! What about when we went blueberry picking and stuffed our cheeks so full of berries and there were hardly any in the bucket!”
We just got back from visiting my in-laws in another state. It was a trek, I’m not gonna lie. Family road trips are a special sort of
hell togetherness. Yet ultimately worth it, every time. The big excitement one day was my boys’ finding a frog in the backyard. There was shrieking. Laughter. Buckets and nets. And that darn frog got away. But it reminded my MIL of some other times when some other boys (hers) found some frogs in the same backyard. She got out the photo album, showed us the pictures. (Like this one, it’s a reminder that some things never change.)
It doesn’t seem like silly stories about frogs and first dates should matter, really. Yet somehow these stories ARE what matters. Quality time? This is it. This is what it’s all about. The trick, though, at least in my experience, is that you can’t MAKE it happen. You have to ALLOW it to happen. Naturally, over coffee and doing the dishes and going to the bank and hanging out in the backyard. By being there. By listening. By asking, “Tell me again about that time…”
PLUG O’ THE WEEK: Just 5 days left to buy your tickets for Baltimore’s inaugural “Listen to Your Mother” show, which celebrates stories about motherhood read by local writers (including me!). Tickets are only $12, and 25% goes to charity. No spoiler alerts here, but I will tell you this: some of the most powerful pieces in the show, IMO, are not by mothers at all. Say what?? You’ll have to join me on Sat. April 26 to see for yourself. (Breaking news: LTYM is being nationally sponsored by Chevrolet this year. Wow!)
P.S. This is likely to be my only post this week because, people? I just got back from an 8-HOUR road trip with my family and I’ve got a show to prepare for in 5 days!!