Welcome back! The past week has been a busy one for me, so I am glad to be writing about it. Over the past week, I have participated in a family reunion, a funeral, and a birthday, and they all remind me about one thing: the importance of stories. These events were about the gathering, retelling, and losing of stories, and yes that is the right order for this situation. Allow me to explain.
First off, there's the family reunion. Every year since 1974 (with one COVID-related exception), my paternal grandparents and their many, many descendants gathered at the same place at around the same time to enjoy the bonds of family, friendship, and Midwestern comfort food (think of any dish with potatoes, pasta, and/or cheese). And during all this food and fun, we have the unofficial ritual of gathering together our stories and sharing them with each other. Maybe someone discovered some new bit of family trivia and now wants to share it with everyone. Perhaps an old family relic reminded someone about a particular time with an aunt or uncle and we want to add it to the family lore. It could be just a simple story of a family member who is also a writer completing a 106-mile cycling trip a few weeks ago. Whatever the case, these stories are the mortar that holds the family close, which makes it all the more important that these stories are gathered regularly and shared amongst those we care about.
Unfortunately, this reunion had a shadow hanging over it, which was the recent death of a dear cousin of mine. This cousin - who we will call Crow because that was his nickname - lived a full life, though he died well before all his stories were told. This brings us to the next part of stories - the retelling. If there is one thing that got our family through the loss of old Crow, it was retelling our favorite stories about him, for better or worse. There's the one about how Crow and my father would playfully wrestle around enough to get all of my father's nephews to join in on a rumble to take Crow down. How about that one with Crow hot-rodding that old Studebaker and going through so many clutches that his father rigged it to lose its massive acceleration - and not tell Crow for the next forty years? And who can forget the other cars and motorcycles that came through Crow's garage and were the most important thing to him next to his wife and family? Retelling these stories brought Crow back to life, even if just for a bit, and helped us through our grief. And yes, we will be retelling these stories again next year.
The last part I want to talk about is part of why I became a writer - losing stories. I hate losing stories, but if we don't commit them to memory, to pen and paper, or to Word, they can vanish and never return. My mother turned 84 last week, which is ordinarily a day for celebration. However, she is in the late stages of dementia, and no longer interacts with the world much less tells stories. Her birthday was a far more somber event, and though we could share stories to remind us of who she was, it has become very evident that many stories will no longer be recovered. As I went through a box of her old things, I found several mementos from trips she might have taken or gifts she might have received, but I have no context for them. She kept our family Bible, which has old correspondences between our long-deceased relatives preserved between its pages, but I can only guess about their importance to her. Without being shared, these are stories lost to the ages, and in some ways I mourn their passing.
The takeaway from the past week is a simple one: stories are everywhere, and it's up to us to collect them. Whether it's someone's wartime experiences or just how a cousin gets a nickname like Crow, they make up a part of who we are, and we honor them when we write them down for others to enjoy. That's what being a writer is all about.