Story Tradition

What is it about stories of past episodes in our life. We all love to tell them. The amazing thing is we retell and retell the same stories to our family and friends as if they constituted a fresh audience every time.

My in-laws are well into their seventies and, although they winter in Florida, they spend the rest of the time in our house. Being at home with them I get the brunt of the stories. My bipolar moods are stabilized as to the peak highs and lows but I still cycle and moods swings occur regularly. I find they “tag team” me at meals with the ancient tales. As the story progresses one interrupts the other with “corrections” of details, as if it was important to me to appreciate the story. I have trouble concentrating on those stories as I experience varying moods. Yet I have discovered they probably don’t care. If I smile, laugh a little and make some sound at what seems like appropriate places that is enough for the story to continue. I can continue to live with my moods uninterrupted by the tale.

But I am not being critical of them. Maybe I am because I am tired of that daily routine. But I suffer from the same malaise. After years of listening, my wife asked me to hold back on my many farm stories from when I was growing up. When we get together with my good friend from university days and his wife, he and I talk endlessly of university escapades. They usually start off with “Remember when we were drinking…”. Our wives always laugh at the old tales and I know they are just making us feel good in the couple of days we have together. We are probably telling the stories more to each other than to them. Strangely my moods don’t come into play here when I am entertaining myself.

My sisters bemoan the fact that, although they lived with their mother until she died at 89, they don’t remember a lot of the hundreds of stories she told over her lifetime. They had stopped paying attention and realized they had lost a litany of family historical events. She was just carrying on the age old oral tradition of passing on important family history. My mother used to say that in every story there was always a grain of truth that one could glean for their own use.

I am thinking that even in my bipolar moods I should try to grasp the core of the oral family history that is being passed down. The facts are the subject and repetition is the means of conveying that story. I should listen harder. Maybe, like my bipolar disorder, passing on family information is in the genes. But maybe not to the one about the dog licking the plate…

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