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Story as Antidote

November 22nd, 2016 6:42am

Remember the first time you felt entranced by a story? Your ears glued to every word waiting to hear what happened next? I do.  When I was a little girl, my father would make up scary tales that my brother and I called the Toady Stories. We’d burrow under the covers on either side of Dad, and excitedly await to be transported to a different world. I remember the warmth. The anticipation. The little yelps at the surprise thumps my father would add to the stories to scare us. 

 

I loved those Toady stories, but do you know what stories resurfaced over the years? The ones I repeated to my children? The small anecdotal tales I heard re-counted casually in the spur of the moment. The yarns about our family. Like how on a hot summer evening, I’d come home from the town pool, towel wrapped around my two-piece and plop down next to my Dad on the bench outside our side door. One look at my exposed skin would spark my father to retell his story of swimming in the polluted Hudson River as a kid with his mother, the grandmother I never met, modestly covered from head to toe in a black bathing suit. “The only bare skin you’d see was on her face and hands,” he’d say with a smile. “She even wore shoes.” Or how as a young man my father left home suddenly to wander through the south for over a year.  When her  reappeared home, unexpectedly, my grandfather sat, reading a paper in his usual chair. He peered over the corner of the newspaper, said simply, “Hello John,” and went back to reading. That small slice of life tells me a lot about the grandfather I never knew. In these moments I’d feel like an invisible yarn was weaving its way through the years before I was born, connecting me with relatives I’d never know. 

 

Family gatherings provide a perfect opportunity to listen to the beautifully ordinary stories from the archives of your family’s memories. Stories that connect, rather than divide. This Thanksgiving, when families are fearful of conversations about our recent election, one simple question can steer the conversation to common territory and unlock recollections from another time. “How did you and Grandpa meet?” “What was the dress code when you went to school?” “Do you remember your first job, or first kiss, or first car?” Ask, then relax back and really listen. 

These are the kinds of stories that fill the Sound and Story archive. Stories that are told on front porches, on long car rides, in quiet moments. Stories you won’t hear on the radio but make us wonder about place, meaning and the passage of time. 

Like how my neighbor Robert Van Wagenen could sit on his front porch on a Sunday morning and listen to different church bells ringing from the distant village. Each bell so distinctive that he knew when it was time to race into town to make it on time for his church service. Or Dorothy Miller remembering  the day her mother took her to witness the Thruway opening. When the official motorcade passed, her mother yelled at the top of her lungs, “God Bless you Governor Dewey!” Unlike many others, Dorothy’s mother was grateful for the money she received for her failing farm when the Thruway tore threw the valley. 

May your Thanksgiving be filled with the stories that connect you, to be remembered and shared next year, and the next year, and the next … 

Eileen

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