On Storytelling

It’s a gymnastics “performance”, a term I use loosely because they’re 3 and this isn’t an Olympic Training Center. Each gymnast gets a chance to show off their routines (complete with a “ta-daaaa” and salute) and they hold an awards ceremony at the end. As the coach hands out medals, she starts talking about the qualities of each kid, like their courage, or energy they bring to class, or the skills they’ve worked hard on. But my girl? She is praised for her storytelling ability (what does storytelling have to do with gymnastics, you ask? Yeah, I was confused too). The coach goes on to say that she always adds vibrant details to her stories and keeps class interesting, then explains that this is in fact an important skill in gymnastics since they work in sequences, moving from skill to skill or creating routines (oh, got it). You might think this was disappointing to me (you mean we pay all that $$ for her to come here and she isn’t going to be the next Simone Biles?!), but actually my heart soars with pride. My girl is absolutely a storyteller. The coach nailed it.

Recently, I had the privilege of reading my 90-year-old grandmother’s memoirs. They made me laugh and cry and have a greater understanding of her life. But mostly, they made me think about stories. Stories, especially family stories, are so incredibly important. I hope and pray that we don’t ever lose the impulse to tell them (and even write them down). Some of these stories have been told for years; they have become part of the fiber of our family’s being. How else could I have ever known that my grandfather,  my mother’s hero who I sadly did not get to meet, kept meticulous records on his cars? He never missed an oil change and always knew exactly what kind of miles per gallon he was getting. By the way, my husband would have absolutely adored this man. How else would I have known that my paternal grandfather spent a lot of his free time devising new ways to execute the birdseed-eating squirrel ninjas in the backyard just so my grandma could have a backyard full of colorful birds to watch? Oh, and that he just loved his crazy grandkids. (Come to think of it, my husband would have adored this one too.)

Then there are just some stories so funny that they are told time and time again, like how my uncle put his thumb in the biggest bowl of pudding (usually reserved for Grandpa) so that he could be the one to eat it. Or the time my college-aged dad was eating the hottest-ever New Mexican chile rellenos at a one-bite-to-one-beer ratio and his Australian roommate barged in to eat a whole chile in one bite. My dad lights up as he tells that he  started counting down 10-9-8… (“whatcha doing’ bro?”) until the roommate’s eyes almost popped out of his head and he had to gargle with cold water (which, let’s be honest, probably made it worse) for a good 10 minutes. Or the time my sister only used conditioner for a year because she liked how it made her hair feel. Or how I drove my mother nuts one day begging for animal crackers and upon her banning the use of the words “animal crackers”, I asked her for some zoo cookies. And who could forget the spaghetti incident of ’98 (maybe?) when I happily skipped to the dinner table and stopped abruptly, but that spaghetti didn’t, and my mom had a minor panic attack about the white carpet?

But perhaps my favorite stories are those that make a full circle, like this one. My grandmother grew up in small-town South Carolina smack dab in the middle of the Great Depression. Her daddy was a “grocery store man”, and although they certainly felt the economic effects, her family was better off than most. One summer, her school district superintendent held a contest to see who could read the most books. Upon return to school in August, the results were announced, and Beulah May Porter, “the smartest girl in the class”, won first prize “of course”. Well, first prize was either $1.00 or a book, and good ol’ Beulah May chose the book. My grandma thought this was absolutely ridiculous since “there was a whole library where you can get ’em for free!” Then her name was called for 2nd place, and I can just imagine her running up on the stage, red curls bouncing, exclaiming, “I’ll take the money!” 2nd prize was a 50 cent piece, and she’d never seen one of those before. Man, she loves to tell that one. Well, 80-something years later, my daughter received a letter in the mail (like the real snail mail) from an aunt on the complete opposite side of the family, who I’m sure has never heard the Beulah May story. The letter came with a small silver necklace, a prize that SHE won for winning a reading contest at a library when she was a little girl. Since our storytelling girl loves to read, my aunt thought she’d like the necklace and oh boy, does she. What a special gift. And what special stories.

I guess my point is to cherish your stories. They serve to connect us to our past and also to each other in the present. Last Thanksgiving, cousins and aunts and uncles from all over and that same grandma sat around a giant table, long after the pie was all gone, for hours looking through old pictures and telling stories and belly laughing until we cried. I kind of wished it would never end. I hope we never stop telling these stories, even the ones that seem not super exciting or important, because I promise they mean something to somebody. And after all, our stories make us who we are.

Currently Reading: The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak. Oh, how I wish you all could hear the giggles come out of our sweet girl while reading this one. It is just so silly and she loves it.

Currently Baking: Although not a sweet treat, I am currently OBSESSED with oven fries. Here’s how I make them:

  • 4-5 medium red or yellow potatoes, sliced into fry shapes
  • 1 TBS of fat of choice, melted (I use 1/2 Kerrygold butter and 1/2 Epic cage-free duck fat- inspired by a local brunch place that makes the BEST duck-fat fries)
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp each of garlic powder and onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (it HAS to be smoked or it’s not even worth it)
  • black pepper to taste

Toss potatoes in melted butter/duck fat, sprinkle seasonings, and stir to evenly coat. Place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, flip over, then 15 or so more minutes until they are crispy. Then, serve with ketchup, or not, they are good enough to stand alone!

Thanks for reading, and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours.

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