Monday, April 18, 2011

The Storytellers

I grew up in a family of storytellers. My dad was always spinning a tale, engaging not just his family and friends but strangers with his words and his charismatic smile. His passion for life and people rippled forth in his energy. People turned their heads when he entered the room, his personality and gift of entertaining with story was that big. His baby brother, my Uncle Alex had the same gift. A thinner version of my dad and nineteen years his junior, they had the same eyes and smile, the kind that made you feel instantly comfortable in their presence and not want to leave their side.

My Uncle passed this Friday having just turned 70. Like his big brother who left this world at 64, it is far too young.

Death has this way of tapping into the parts of ourselves we don’t normally look at. All those stories we keep stored away in our memory, the ones we remember living and the ones we remember being told pour forth along with our tears.  

My uncle surrounded by my Dad on the right
and their other brother on the left.
I love story. I love to read story, watch story, hear story and write story. The roots of that passion are in their tales, this generation that paved a path for me. And I worry what will happen to their stories as they pass to another plane.

They were not writers but masters of the spoken word. I question if I listened enough or if I am able to store all those details of their lives in my memory before we, the next generation arrived. Is my capacity that great? Should I have taken notes, asked more questions? It is their stories that keep them close and still alive. And I feel desperate to account for every detail.  

Their stories of Coney Island, Brooklyn in the Depression, WWll, how they thought my grandmother had a tumor when in fact she was pregnant with my Uncle Alex. It was 1940 and a women well into her forties and pregnant was rare. The day my grandfather cut the telephone cord because my grandmother was talking on the phone too long with one of the neighbors. Or the time the police showed up looking for my father when in fact it was one of their cousin's using his name and pretending to be him that was in trouble.

But every detail is impossible. What is not is my version of their narratives.

I am the one who writes stories.  They are in all of them. Maybe not in a specific character but in a nuance, an insight, a perspective that I convey to a reader.  A detail that belonged to their visage, a scene whose seed was in some story they told me that made me smile, or squirm, or recoil in disbelief. 

The way I set the stage was learned from these experts in the telling of story, this family I was born into.  And for that I am ever so grateful.


Colette Martin said...

Joanne,I am so sorry for your loss. It's terrific that you are able to share such great memories.

Unknown said...

Thank you Colette!

Tracy said...

I lost my mom a month ago today. Now, I find myself doing something and seeing her in my actions, my words, my thoughts. I think you will carry the stories forward...they will be reflected in you and as a result, the memories of the original storytellers will be honored. Keep your head high Joanne. You didn't lose faith, you know exactly where they are.