Sunday, December 11, 2011

Storytellers I've known and they stories they tell- Part 1

I've had several stories that were told to be at various points in my life floating around in my head and heart for weeks.  I've wanted to share them, but it was hard to find a reason or even a framework for telling these random tales.  I'm going to relate them over a few days with a little background or dissection, if I can manage.  Maybe I'll find a point as I go, but no promises.  I also invite you to share the stories that linger in your heart.  Leave them in comments, or email them to me.  I am a collector of tales, after all.  Within me live  fragments of many histories, many people.

Stories serve many purposes; they can be didactic or entertaining.  Some are oral histories or memories related to another.  Many are kernels of truth surrounded by embellishment. It is likely that they are humankind's oldest entertainment.  Stories touch us in a number of important ways, but that power is magnified by the storyteller.

We all have stories that we hold onto for a variety of reasons.  These can be reminders of who we are, were we come from.  They can be cautionary tales, or they can simply paint an indelible image on our psyches that touch something deep and strange within our hearts.

Parents are often the first storytellers of our lives.  My mother told me many stories, but a few have really stuck in my memory. One of my favorites is the story of my great-grandmother's baptism.  Her family had come to the West as part of the Mormon wagon trains, but later settled in Oregon.  The story goes like this:
  "Grandma was baptized in river.  It was cold and when they dunked her, her long hair got wet and icy.  Her wet hair slapped her back when they stood her back up, and she yelled, "Jesus Christ", and they had to baptize her again."  
The story is far funnier if you know the back story.  My great grandmother lived in a very small town in Northern Oregon.  Even if she wasn't baptized anywhere near her 8th birthday (as is Mormon custom), rivers in mountainous areas, especially in the Northern latitudes, tend to be darn cold year round.  My great grandmother was also a character (this is the same great grandmother who used to threaten to run through missionaries): she got pregnant out of wedlock in the late 1920's, married a logger who was once a tight rope walker in circus, and once danced on the table after one of her grandkids fed her pot brownies.  When she was in the hospital after a stroke, a nosy neighbor called in the Mormon missionaries to give her a blessing that she would have never consented to if she could have spoke up.  Through the blessing, she gave me the dirtiest look that plainly said "Why the HELL aren't you doing something about this?"  She loved to watch wrestling on TV, once smacked my mom at the dinner table just because she thought it was funny.  When the grandkids were bad, she'd threaten them with a "backhanded wrap around the door knob", which none of us ever figured out what was, but it was sufficiently frightening to deter bad behavior.  Not exactly the sorts of behavior one would expect from a woman born in 1910, is it?

Whether the story is true or not doesn't matter.  It illustrates an independent spirit, fun and a humanity that is easily lost when relating historic tales.  It has served as vibrant reminder throughout my life, that I came from somewhere, that I was and am connected to this funny, loving, quirky woman who didn't always do things the "right" way and survived.  It is an inspiration, a light in the dark, when I am frustrated with my own inability to be who other people want me to be.

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