Yesterday (I think it was yesterday. maybe I should just say…) Recently in comments, someone brought up a story about my grandmother, and I was recalling fondly the times I spent as a kid listening to the grown-ups tell stories. I was a quiet kid, as I recall, with a book in front of my face more often than not, and I often made myself small and quiet in the corner so I could hear the stories.
I loved to hear the stories about my family’s adventures. Hunting, fishing, trapping, life in general, all those things led to accounts that were told over and over when new people came to visit – and sometimes just because family was getting together for a visit and news was being passed on. Or just because the teller of the tale had forgotten how many times they’d told that particular story.
I don’t remember all of them. I remember that my cousins in Alaska had wicked senses of humor, as did my Grampa Bob. I remember my Dad’s stories about the calls he’d been on, as a medic or a firefighter. I learned to respect and love the wild from their stories, and to fear the power of drugs and fire from my Dad’s experiences. I listened to the guy Mom and Dad brought home, who was super into gov’t conspiracies (and even at 12 I knew the guy was full of it). All the stories, tumbled together in my head and wove a tapestry of life that surrounded me. I was a loved child – note, this is not the same as being a beloved child! I was a tomboy, mostly covered in twigs, dirt, and scrapes. I was mouthy when I wasn’t buried in a book, and very, very sure of myself. Which, later in life, I was informed meant that I was arrogant. By several people, so I have no doubt of that. I was full of vim and vinegar, and ruefully I realize I was probably hard to live with. My sister was the fairy princess, not I. But this doesn’t mean I was unloved. That tapestry of stories that surrounded me like a warm blanket was all part of the love I was surrounded by. If any of them scolded me, it was like taking a rolled-up newspaper to a puppy for piddling. I deserved it, and it didn’t change how I felt about them. But I digress.
The stories shaped me. Part of the loving care of my family, it was from the tales about my grandmother shooting the bear through the window to protect her small children from the hungry animal that I learned the power of a mother defending her family. From my great-grandpa Vanderburg’s stories of hunting and survival I learned about the concept of conservation, and from my uncles and cousins I learned the perils of a controlling environmentalist agenda that didn’t take into account the reality of living with the wild. All the stories I listened to, and even some I have forgotten, lodged in my heart to guide my steps as I grew up. And it wasn’t always a good thing. For all that I was loved as a girl, there was a lot of deliberate teaching and some that was not so conscious, going on.
But that’s another story for another day. Today, I’m just happy remembering the people who’s stories I was privileged to listen in on. The stories I sometimes weave into my own fiction, because they were worth hearing and passing on. The stories I still collect, from my husband, friends, and improbable sources like a safety training presentation. Ok, perhaps that last is not so improbable. People do some darned unsafe and stupid things, even highly educated and trained people.
Tall tales, short stories, all the lore that lives in human interactions. It’s all worth listening to, and sometimes it’s worth telling again in other forms.