As I write, I am sitting in my parents’ living room, working from my mother’s laptop computer (upon which I will lay the blame for any typos, being as I’m unused to the keyboard, and all); I owe this pleasure to my husband, who suggested we take a trip to my hometown to celebrate the fact that he’s on leave from work for a few days. So, we made the trip, and here we are. It’s only a flying visit, but it’s been wonderful. I haven’t been home in ages, and I’ve really missed it.
However, coming home, as well as being a fantastic chance to catch up with my family, has also taught me a very useful lesson. Sit back, get comfortable, and I’ll tell you all about it.
On Saturday evening, my family and I spent some time in my local pub, whereupon a certain amount of alcohol was, I have to admit, imbibed; as well as this, though, something else happened – something which I believe is rather special, and important, and worthy of sharing. As well as the laughter, and the companionship, and the happiness, there was something which is connected to all these things, but also a separate wonder, all of itself – there was Storytelling.
Storytelling is an important part of Irish culture – we still value the storyteller and the act of storytelling in Ireland, something which has its roots in our earliest history – but from the point of view of my family, it has a hugely important personal significance. My parents have told my brother and I stories as long as we can remember – stories about their lives when they were young, long before we were born; stories about local ‘characters’ and people famed in our hometown for their abilities (or, sometimes, lack of ability) to do certain things, and stories from their own parents’ time, from far back into the history of our town and its foundation. My brother and I were raised on stories of my father’s friend Wilf, for instance, a man who took on heroic proportions in our eyes because of all the tales Dad spun about him, and we were regaled with sagas of the deeds of our grandfathers and other men of their generation, all of whom seemed to have immense intelligence and wit. This weekend was no different. We revisited some of the old favourites, and some new tales were added to the treasury, particularly those told in memory of a few friends who have recently passed away; they may not be with us any more, but their stories and their memory will live on. As I listened to the tale-telling, however, something struck me – something so important, it’s amazing that it never really occurred to me before.
I love to write – it’s what I want to do, and it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. My brother is similar to me in many ways, especially in his love for words. Sometimes, I’ve wondered why this is – why my brother and I are so similar, on such a profound level, despite the fact that we’ve chosen to do different things with our lives. Writing, and reading, and tale-telling, are among our favourite things, and something which we both treasure. Listening to my father telling tales on Saturday, and keeping me as rapt as ever, despite the fact that I’ve heard most of them before, made me finally realise something.
My parents are storytellers. They may not be writers, but they are tellers and creators and repositories of stories, local history, cultural history and family history. My brother and I have been raised with these stories, we’ve been fed them and nourished on them all our lives. It’s no wonder, really, that we both want to create stories, and we both love words and the power they possess. We’ve learned it all our lives.
The stories my parents tell are more than just a way to pass the time; they’re a way to bond, to create links between people, to unite communities, to store memories, and to honour those who’ve passed from our sight. They’re the most important thing we have. Most of my favourite family recollections from my childhood involve storytelling of some sort, whether my parents or grandparents or our family friends were the ones doing the regaling; all my parents have to do is mention a favourite story, and we’re all primed to listen, not only to a treasured tale but to all the layers of memory, all the happy recollections of all the times that story has already been told and enjoyed. I’ve had this wonderful trove of story all my life, and I never fully appreciated it until this weekend.
My parents gave my brother and I the best gift anyone could give. They gave us the history of our family in a series of stories, memories crystallised into tales we can treasure and keep safe to pass on to a new generation, and – as if that wasn’t enough – a love of sharing and telling and creating stories that both of us have used to enrich our lives in ways our parents probably couldn’t have imagined. If ever a parent wondered whether it was ‘worthwhile’ to spend time making up silly or funny stories with their child, or whether it was a good thing to encourage imagination by telling tales, or whether encouraging a child to enjoy language and the feeling of accomplishment gifted by the creation and retention of a treasured story was something to be aimed for, then I hope this post will answer those questions for them.
Yes. Yes, it is. Yes, it certainly is.
Happy Monday. Happy new week. Go and create some stories, and make sure to tell them, and retell them, and turn them into treasures.