Last fall I filled my grandmother’s apartment with smoke and all she did was laugh and tell a story.
In what could’ve been a moment of fiasco, she instinctively chose to insert a tiny snapshot of memory. Stories trail magic in their power to communicate and transform. Even small anecdotal stories of our childhood, hold influence and weight over our present situations.
What are our lives if not one small story piled on top of another?
I had cleared the calendar and driven through the dormant wheat fields of northern Oklahoma to spend some time with her. Per the usual, much of our time together was spent telling stories. She told of recent happenings in the lives of our relatives and about the residents of the senior living center where she now lives.
But the main stories shared were those of long ago. “Do you remember…” is Grandma Irene’s favorite way to change the subject.
She woke up that Saturday morning with far more energy than most 90 year olds and began making fancy scrambled eggs in her small kitchen. (“I sure do miss my dishwasher, but I’m not complaining!”) I squeezed in close and buttered bread to put in the oven broiler. Distracted by all our gabbing, I walked away until the smell of burning toast brought me running. I flung the door open and grabbed the pan to run outside as smoke billowed into the apartment. (Sadly, I admit the run for the burn is a familiar race to me.)
UGH. What an idiot! Why can’t I do anything right? Seriously, can I not adult properly?
These were the immediate voices shouting in my head to accompany a few unmentionables flying out under my breath.
Grandma, however, was laughing long and loud when I walked back into the kitchen.
“Don’t worry Kell-o, it’s just a bunch of burned toast!”
And right away she said, “Don’t you remember the feders?” Of course I remember. The ‘feder’ story she has told for as long as I can remember, although I was too young to recall the actual event.
I was scared of a lot of things as a child. Birds were just one on a long list and who knows why that fear snuck in. The story goes like this. My grandparents took my younger sister and I on a car ride somewhere. In the backseat was a big birdcage containing a fake chenille bird with colorful feathers. I scooted in and promptly, according to her story, began screaming my head off.
My younger sister calmly patted me on the arm and said, “Don’t worry Kell-o, its just a bunch of feders!”
It’s now a catch phrase in our family, told and retold through almost 5 decades. It is cute and silly and could have easily been forgotten. And yet it wasn’t. This one has helped me overcome irrational fears and continues to teach me to not worry about trivial things.
Like feathers and burned toast.
Through her stories my grandmother continues to wisely encourage by teaching me what’s really important and reminding who I am. It makes me feel loved. It makes me wish I lived closer to my sister. It makes me want to tell my own.
Small stories, told in a cycle of storytelling, have influence. Instructing in the present and connecting to the past.
I want to tell stories that reflect truth and encourage, collecting them to use as powerful weapons against an enemy that wants our memories to be short and forgetful and broken. I want to mine out the lessons of ordinary time, seeing with wise eyes the gifts they contain.
Small moments matter. Write them down. Learn from them. Collect the best and share them. They add up and become the story of your life.