Tuesday, May 3, 2016


In my family, holidays, birthdays, and general get-togethers don't fit the usual model.  We sit around the table for hours on end, and it's not uncommon for everyone to be sitting and doing some form of eating or waiting for food from noon until 8 or 9 at night.  Meals are slow, drawn-out affairs.  A main course.  Then clearing the table, and dishes washed, while more talking happens.  Then possibly a seafood course.  Another long pause while dishes are cleared and washed.  Then, a fruit course.  And then finally, coffee, desert, and of course, spirits of various natures.  However, eating is not the priority, but rather, story-telling.

Conversations all happen simultaneously - it's like having multiple radio stations all on at once, and you can decide where to tune into at any given moment.  

As a small child, I loved the cacophony of stories all happening around me.  While the other children would leave the table to go off and play in between courses, I would linger at the table, silently enthralled by the retelling of days long past.  I would listen in fascination as my father and uncle took turns filling in the blanks about all the times back in the small village in Portugal that they snuck into neighbours yards and stole peaches or various other fruits.  The elaborate toys and games they would create themselves out of sticks and rocks.  The pranks they would play at school.  I would delight in the tales of these grown men turned vivid little scamps in my mind's eye, and giggle when they explained how they narrowly escaped getting caught.

My grandfather was a master story teller.  I did not know him, or any of my grandparents that well, as they all lived back in Portugal.  But whenever we would visit, I would revel in his unique story-telling ability.  He would draw us in expertly, building up the suspense, painting vivid images of his escapades... and always have the entire table full of people laughing in tears by the end of it.  

Tonight I was babysitting a pair of young girls, and they wanted to hear stories about real people, not a bed time story from a book.  I wondered if they'd be interested in my own adventures.  "Did I ever tell you about the time I swam to an island with my friend and almost got attacked by a gigantic bird?"  I started off.

"Tell us, tell us!" was the reply I got.

So I told them.  They interrupted with so many questions - how long did it take you to swim?  How big was the bird?  Why did you and your friend decide to go to an island?  Was it far away?

When I was done, they wanted more.  "Can you tell another one?" they begged.  "Then we'll sleep!"

So I told them about the time I saw a bear.  "A real live bear?!  Are you sure it wasn't someone with a puppet?!"  "How did you live without a PHONE in that cabin?!"

And then when I was done, of course the inevitable... "Please just ONE more!"

So I told them about the time I went canoeing in the wildnerness on my own and the winds picked up and I nearly got blown to a very far away shore, never to be seen again.  How I was so scared, and all I could do was tell myself that I couldn't be scared, that I just had to paddle, and paddle, and paddle...

They couldn't get enough of it.

I'm not anywhere near a master storyteller like my grandfather was, but I seemed to have painted some kind of vivid images in their minds.  I was fascinated by their interest.  Why do real life stories of people we know grip us so?  Was I not unique in my childhood then - does every young child have a natural interest in the collective stories of their adults' pasts?

Story-telling serves not only the listener, but the story-teller as well.

A few months ago, I went to visit a friend after I returned from New Zealand & Fiji, and spent a few hours showing her a hefty selection of my photos and telling all the associated stories.  Watching the rarest penguin in the world come out of the ocean after waiting for hours.  Seeing steaming vents in the earth and bubbling mud puddles.  Hiking for hours to see a 360 degree view of mountains surrounding me.  The culture shock of stepping onto a remote Fijian village on a tiny island and having to figure out how to adapt.  Flying a plane over the mountains.  Making breakfast in the back of a tiny sleepervan in the wind and rain.  The morning we woke up to a pink sunrise... and a man with his pony.
My friend listened attentively, rapt in my swirl of stories and associated spin-off conversations they inspired.

I left her place a few hours later feeling a deep sense of wholeness.  It is one thing to go abroad, discover, explore, take it all in.  But when we return, we return to our regular lives, and the wealth of the lived experiences remain locked inside us.

Story-telling is a way to bring those stories to the surface; to draw others in to the richness of our lived experiences.  Story-telling makes us closer, as we get to see and experience aspects of another's life that we would never otherwise have access to.  Story-telling is so much more than a few photos shared on social media with a quick comment here and there.

I have a dream, that one day when I'm past the days of adventuring, that I will sit in a rocking chair wrapped up in blankets with small little children sitting around me, hearing about the adventures from 'days of old'... 

Ah, who am I kidding... I'll probably still be climbing trees and paddling stormy waters until the very end, and taking the little ones with me ;-)

1 comment:

  1. Great adventures naturally become fuel for great stories. You're awesome at both.