I have told these stories many times, and the kids know them by heart, but it still has to be me telling them for some reason. When they ask, I say, “But you know that story!” They don’t care, they want to hear it again. Once I start a story, get into the rhythm of it, I find I don’t really mind the repetition as much as I thought I would. After I’ve told a few of their favorite stories, or all the stories we can think of, depending on the night, they will sometimes ask me for a new story.
“What kind of story?” I ask.
“A funny story!” Gee, that’s not much to go on, kiddoes. I tell them that it doesn’t work like that, I can’t just come up with things out of nowhere, they have to pay attention to what is happening and remember. Sometimes an old story will sneak up on us, in the middle of some other conversation. The kids love it when this happens. We will be talking and suddenly I’ll say, “Hey, that’s just like when you were little, you used to do that all the time.” Their eyes will gleam, and they will grin in anticipation. “Tell us the story!” I know I had better get it right, too, because if I vary the story in the future, they will correct me.
When we have guests over, I worry that this will be boring to them, especially if this is not the first time they have been at our house and been subjected to story time. So, sometimes, I will ask guests to supply their own family stories. Sometimes people will tell us a few of their own family legends, which I love to hear. Family stories are so universal in one sense, and yet so very particular to the family in question. I find it fascinating to see how other families interact, and how individuals react in a given situation.
But I am surprised how many people say that they don’t have stories like that. I think they do, they just don’t realize it. They don’t sit at the dinner table, hearing the same rehearsed stories, the old favorites. They only hear them at special family gatherings, or by accident, in those surprise conversations. They aren’t storing them up, like my kids do, to ask to hear them again later. And again, and again, and again.
I am a big believer in the power of stories. Stories hold our lives together, whether they are beloved books or just the stories we tell ourselves to get through the day. But the shared stories of a family are special. They are both shared and separate. They bind a family together into a community while holding them separate from everyone else. They create a space where a group of people occupy the same world, in ways that they don’t always in day to day life. During the day, I go to work, my kids go to their separate schools, and we interact with our own friends, acquaintances, co-workers, teachers, peers. When we come to the dinner table and tell our stories, we are together and all those other people, the other worlds we inhabit, are on the outside; we are together in the story world. One of the best parts is that we can create this world with whomever we like. We have stories that involve our close friends, and of course, our extended family. Even sharing our own stories about just us lets those we love into our special world, if only for an evening.
The ‘He Kissed Me!’ story, in case you are wondering, goes like this: One day, when my brother David and I were about 11 and 12 (he is the annoying little brother, natch), we were walking home from school, and he really wanted me to talk to him. For some reason, probably because he was the most annoying brother ever born, I didn’t want to talk to him, so I refused to speak. He said more and more ridiculous things, trying to get me to talk, but I held firm and said nothing. He put his arms around me and, as much as I could, I continued walking as if he wasn’t even there. As we crossed a side street, he escalated to kissing me on the cheek! I was furious! I pushed him so hard, he ended up sitting there in the middle of the street, and I ran the rest of the way home.
I ran uphill a couple of blocks to the really busy street, then down the alley to our house and tore into the house, where my mother was standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes. As I came in the door, I roared in my most indignant voice, “He kissed me!” My mother, shocked and very worried, stopped what she was doing, and ran over to me, putting her still soapy hands on my arms to focus my attention and calm me down.
“Who?” she asked frantically, “Who kissed you?”
“David.” This, still in the roaring voice, as I glared at her in horror and fury. At this point, my mother made one of those odd faces where she looked like she was trying really hard not to swallow her tongue. Or maybe like she was trying to swallow her tongue, to stop the laughter.
“It is not funny,” I said, quellingly, glaring disgustedly at her now.
“No, baby,” she said, still struggling with her tongue.
About this time, David comes sauntering in the house, looking as smug as it is possible for an 11 year old boy to look, and I stomped off to my room. Doesn’t he sound annoying? That’s really all you need to know about my brother. He is 40 now, and not much different. Well, okay, he is different. But he is still my annoying little brother, no matter what he does (or how tall he is–at 6’5”, my brother is a giant actually; I still call him my little brother, because it still annoys him, 😉 ).
Isn’t that a great story?