We Are the Story Keepers
I Am A Story Keeper and I Share the Stories
Largely, this is a role I stepped into by choice. I am my dad’s youngest by far, having three older half-siblings, and as the baby sister (by 16 years and more) I was privy to information that my nieces and nephews who are my age (or nearly so) were not.
Also, I notice things and I talk (and Facebook) a lot. So over the past 10 years, as the younger generation has married and had kids, I’m the aunt that tells a story in response to a Facebook post. To a grand-niece on her “gotcha day” “This is what your great-grampie said when he met you..” To a grand-nephew who designs sets for a living and creates beautiful furniture as a hobby, “My dad would have been so proud of you and that table. Like him, you are talented and clever.”
Their parents share stories about our summers and have taught two generations the five or six Girl Scout songs I, their 16-year-old aunt, had taught them on rides to camp.
Stories and a shared history are powerful things.
A 2013 article in the New York Times, called “The Stories that Bind Us,” discussed a multi-year study to examine which families developed the most resilient children and the most healthy bonds. Here it is, “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”
This is actually a cool story in itself. Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emery University was pondering myth and ritual in Amerian families. (How 90s is that question?) Marshall was married to Sara, a child psychologist who worked with children with learning disabilities. Sara happened to mention that those of her students who did better when they faced challenges were the ones who knew a lot about their families. And a study was born.
Dr, Duke and team developed a measure called the “Do You Know? Scale — twenty quetions to ask each child. “Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?”
Here’s the most important thing: “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.” (Italics and bold mine because important.)
Twenty and thirty years ago, it became fashionable to interview the elders and learn their stories. Now, we are the elders. Unlike the grands and great-grands in the 80s, most of us are fairly technically skilled. We can certainly keyboard or record our own family stories. We can go through family photos and provide names and dates. We can provide a bit of context and history to a Facebook post.
We are sharp, vibrant, and fun women. We know things. My father drove oxen in the woods of Maine to harvest timber. His mom drove a Model T. And in 1969, my dad sat next to me and watched men land on the moon. Who will tell those stories?
Heed me! This is important. Families fracture through death or divorce or illness. Someone has to keep and share the stories before they are lost — and while the kids can embrace the messages of resiliency, strength, humor, and hope.
We are sharp, vibrant, and fun women who know things. It’s time we made sure the next generations do as well. Gather your stories and share them. Be a Story Keeper.
Oh, what were those 20 questions? Here you go. A nephew has asked me to write down what I know about our father’s (his grampie’s) life. I think these questions will be where I start.
Now, write (or record) the stories and teach the next generation of Story Keepers.
Before I posted this, I realized that April 14 was my dad’s birthday, so my first effort at recording his story was to write a Facebook post that shared a bit about him and I invited other family members to share photos. When the Grands and Great-grands shared something, I added another story. It’s a beautiful thread that we will take to a more private space, but here is what i l learned, the 60 somethings and the 20 somethings all were delighted to hear the few stories I told. They are eager for more. They have questions.
Be the keeper and sharer of stories. I truly think this is one thing we can do to make the world a better place —– one family at a time.