It took only five words…

By | May 22, 2009

It took only five words…

If my dad spoke those five words at the beginning of a sentence, they worked wonders! They grabbed my attention and snatched me back from wherever my little-boy mind had wandered. They riveted my attention on Dad.      I was ready.

Did I ever tell you….” That  phrase was the preamble to adventure. Television was a thing of the future and our family had no radio. But soon we might be in the jungles of the Philippines cowering in fear with Dad and other young recruits listening, dry-mouthed, to rhythmic war-beat of tom-toms getting closer and closer—tom-toms, the drums of savage cannibals, according to the old sergeant. Or we might be enjoying breakfast at a street cafe in Paris. Or awed by smoke and smell and sound of colorful life-size parade-dragons weaving their way through the streets of Tokyo. Or we might be frantically scrambling through underbrush in Borneo with fierce headhunters closing in. Or setting dangerous explosives deep underground in the vein of Number 9 coal in Muhlenberg County, KY; “That’s how Jeb Matheney lost the thumb and forefinger on his right hand, you know.”

Did I ever tell you…” and its counterpart, “Once upon a time…”: are signals that it’s story time, a time of remembering. The “mem” in “remember” and the “mem” in “memorial” carry the suggestion of something or someone who made a difference—who contributed parts of the mosaic or tapestry of our lives.

When Alex Haley wrote Roots, he struck a responsive chord that continues to reverberate. We all yearn to know our story: who we are, who they, our ancestors, were, and what we’ll find when we follow our roots. Stories reveal the tale—the tales, I should say.

Memorial Day is a time for remembering…a time of stories. We’ve almost forgotten that. I’ll remember, in particular, my brother, Reg, (the “Jackie” of our novels): His service in WW II, his being missing in action (He was in a German prison camp), his Purple Heart, his three years in the hospital after the war. And the good times afterward.

I’ll remember Dad (the “Smith Delaney” of our novels): his time as a teen soldier in the occupation forces in the Philippines after the Spanish American War; his time in Europe in WWI, the rascal he was and the gentleman he became after he met my mother (to-be).

I’ll recall my children’s great-great grandfathers’ service during the Civil War—at least one for the Confederacy and two for the Union. And I’ll remember the mothers (my Mom, of course) and wives and the sweethearts (Reg’s Jo) who stayed behind.

But our memories aren’t just of the military actions of our forebears. Let’s remember those ancestors’ trips over the mountains or down the rivers. Let’s remember their hard times and good. Let’s remember how they laid the foundations our lives are built on.

Visit their graves, if you can. Those memorial stones mark the final resting place of real people who once felt the joys and heartaches of life much as we do. Be thankful for each bit of good they bequeathed and forgive their failures.

Learn their stories. Write them down. Share them with the children who will be your bridge to generations to come. The stories help us know who we are, and may well give insights into why we are what we are. For example, it’s easy to trace my love of nature, of people, of my faith, and of stories. No doubt it’s easy to follow paths that suggest why you are who you are, too. And how I love it when I get a peek into a secret closet of the past and see a garment that I now wear.

I’ll write more about stories and storytelling in future posts on my blog, Be sure to visit there regularly.

Philip Dale Smith (GrandpaDale)

PS We’ll discuss how you can make the most of storytelling to enrich family life and bond family members.

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