Here lately I’m become more aware that I’m the last storyteller. By that I mean the last one (the only one) in my family to dig into family history, sift through the facts. I’m the one who’s writing things down before they slip away like canaries from an open cage.
Stories have always been an important part of my life. Mom and Dad were great storytellers, a trait handed down from their parents and grandparents. Funny stories and gruesome anecdotes, ghost stories.
Such tales were bred on front porches and under shade trees had a lot to do with the wealth of stories; something air conditioning and television have choked off.
Still we swap stories around the dinner table and in the car. Oral traditions still go on. When relatives gather, they talk. We all want to know where we come from. How we remember the past is key to who we think we are.
Most of us know that we should jot down family gems so they won’t be lost. But we put it off and the story threads get tangled, the facts shift.
I remember hearing about my husband’s great-grandfather, a Civil War captain, whose horse was shot out from under him in battle. High drama and bravery. Yet research showed the man was a private. Says so on his discharge papers. He was never an officer.
Years later, we discovered that it was actually this soldier’s grandfather who was the captain…in the Revolutionary War! Whether a horse was shot out from under either one of them is anybody’s guess.
Did my great-grandmother have canaries in the 1920s?
That question came up in an essay I was writing. If she did own them, it fit perfectly into the theme of the piece, but I couldn’t be sure, and there’s no one around who knows. So I venture into the “creative” side of nonfiction.
I own one of the family bird cages. It could have been hers. And so I’m telescoping my own story, no different than what people have done for generations. I have good intentions.
Maybe that’s OK.