Family Stories: The Rituals We Share

Where We Came From

Halloween, Día de Muertos, the feast of All Souls. There is something about this time of year. The air turns crisp and cool. The leaves brown/red/yellow, die, and drop. The grass yellows and the last tough flowers are rimmed with frost in the mornings. It’s full on pumpkin spice season, y’all! (Admit it, you love it.)

Fall is magical. For me no other time of the year holds the holiness, the pure joy of fall. We are about to take a dive straight into the teeth of winter. But not yet, first we’re going out with a bang. Every tree worth her salt has on her loudest dress, the skies are doing their utmost to look amazing and dramatic. It’s all blustery wind, and bright sun, and piled storm clouds looming.

Death stands there, sipping a latte and waiting his own damn turn for once. He’s coming, but first, we party. Fall is liminal, the word means transitional and refers to a time or place between things. Spiritually, liminal describes what we call thin space. Summer has worn a hole in the world. And a little bit of the magic, and the mystery, and the scariness of the universe at large is seeping in.

No wonder my Scottish ancestors huddled indoors telling one another stories about the fabulous beasts and the ghosts that roamed the leaf strewn night. But not all those ghosts are unfriendly.

Not Forgotten

Fall is the perfect time for storytelling as we’re reminded of endings and death. What better time to remember and honor our ancestors, or maybe even poke fun at those who were a little bit too full of themselves.

My paternal grandfather died before I was born. But I have a lively and loving memory of him. Is that weird? Not so much. Because my Mother told stories. She painted my Grandfather for me in her words by telling me what he’d have been doing right that moment (spoiling me), and told stories about the ways she drove him crazy as a teenager. My Mom made him alive and real for me.

The Gift of Story

One of the things that makes us human is our ability to tell stories. The ones we love do not vanish when they are gone, they hang on in the stories we tell one another and the memories we cherish. Those stories do more than keep their memory alive. The stories we tell build the foundations for future generations, they are the cultural building blocks that launch a whole new generation out into their various adventures and their unknown futures. Both the heroes and the villains of our real life stories pass on something important.

And this is the time of year for giving that gift of story. Now, as death walks the world, as we slow down the hectic movement of summer, as the whole hemisphere prepares to dream it’s way through the long hard winter. Now is the time for stories. “They” say that we have become a rootless society, a generation without any ties to land or family.

But even if we live a world away from where we grew up, far from family, friends, and the familiar, we carry with us our home in the form of the stories we hold in our hearts. So, in this season when the spirits linger a little closer than normal take the invitation to tell your stories.

Sharing the Gift

Do you want to pass on the stories from your childhood to others? Want to laugh with your kids at the ludicrous exploits of your father way back in rural Michigan playing chicken with steam engines? Below are some suggestions for ways we can share our past with the future and in doing so make the world a little richer, a little more flavorful for everyone.

  • Visit still living family members and encourage them to tell stories about their childhood or youth. Take notes, or make a recording of their stories. If you haven children make them part of this activity!
  • Invite friends over for a “family story potluck” – ask everyone to bring a dish that has a story behind it, share these stories while you all eat the dishes they inspired.
  • Write down everything you can remember of the stories told by your grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives who have since died. Share these stories with your children, or children in your extended family.
  • At family gatherings during the holidays ask family members to tell favorite stories from their childhoods, or ask them to share the favorite stories that their parents and grandparents shared with them, you might be surprised how old the stories in your family are!
  • Start telling the stories of your childhood, even if you feel like no one could possibly be interested, they are.
  • Get your kids in on the fun, prompt them to tell stories of when they were younger and let the hilarity ensue. (Young children are natural storytellers, unless you care about a linear timeline!) You’ll teach them that their voice matters and get them in the habit of sharing stories
  • Spend time at a nursing home, religious function, or other intergenerational event listening to the stories of the oldest members.

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