I just LOOOOVE a good family story. So why didn’t I know November is National Family Stories Month until now?! I mean, I know when National Margarita Day is (ahem, Feb 22, of course) and National Wine Day (May 25, no duh). So, needless to say, I’m pretty good at keeping tabs when there’s a designated time to celebrate my favorite things. And family stories—they rank right up there.
Whether it’s the one about when my then 15-year-old brother climbed back into his bedroom window after sneaking out at 2AM to meet a girl only to find my dad hunkered down in his bed waiting for him or when my sister refused to wear sunscreen on a family ski trip and woke the next morning looking like the guy from Mask, my kids are big fans of family stories, too. Especially the funny ones. And, holy heck, do I have a lot of those.
But I also have sad stories. Like when my mom lost her brother in a terrible accident at age 8. Or when I had to give away my pet Scottish terrier because my parents were divorcing. Or how a neighbor lady died right in our front yard when I was a kid after suffering a heart attack.
Then there are stories of strength and courage. Like how my mom killed the biggest, hairiest spider I’ve ever seen in the basement with a can of Raid and a fly swatter, as my sister and I jumped on the couch and screamed our heads off. Or how my grandmother (my daughter’s namesake) raised 7 boys in a tiny house by herself while her husband drove truck. Same goes for my mom—she was pretty much a single parent when my dad was out to sea patrolling the world’s oceans on a nuclear submarine during the Cold War.
Also, anecdotes of adventure. Like how a guy dressed as a flowering bush in Jamaica chased me down a street because I took a picture of him without knowing I had to pay. Or the time I pulled a drowning woman back into my raft who had fallen out while riding the whitewater wilds of the Salmon River in Idaho.
And who could ever forget those stories of romance? My first kiss (a handsome bloke named Tim from England). When my husband proposed to me while ice skating at Rockefeller Center in NYC. Or how my mom used to wear a cheesy necklace from my dad that spelled out the words “butter butt” (ewww, gross).
All these stories—the funny, the sad, the good, the bad—make us and our families who we are today. Recalling them reminds us of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. Sharing them with our kids helps them to feel a deeper, more personal connection with their loved ones past and present, especially the ones they may have never met. It also humanizes us in the eyes of a child. “Really, Grandpa used to jump railroad tracks on his bike?!” or “Mom, you used to want to be a pilot when you were a kid? I thought you were scared to fly!”
November really is the perfect time to unpack and pass these stories around and down. With the holidays coming up, there’s probably no other time of year when multiple generations are gathered in one spot. It’s also a time to be thankful—especially for the stories we’re a part of together.
Stories come in many forms. We tell stories when we continue traditions. Every holiday season, the kids and I make my Grandma Violet’s chocolate fudge and a version of my husband’s Grandma Virginia’s kolache cookies. Though they’re not here with us physically anymore, we can’t help but feel their presence as we talk about them while stirring the bubbling chocolate or fill the delicate cookies with jam.
So ready to do a little storytelling this season, but not sure where to start? I got your back, friends. Here are a few ideas for you:
• At Thanksgiving dinner this year, go around the table and ask everyone to share a favorite story about their childhood. If they can’t think of one, start with something easy like “What was your favorite cartoon growing up?” or “Who was your first crush?” or “What did/do you want to be when you grew/grow up?” Make sure to include even the youngest family member.
• Grab an elder in the room and ask them about the “good old days.” What kind of car did they drive when they were a teenager? What kind of music did they listen to? Really stop and listen to them. Soak in this time you have together. If you have children, pull them into the conversation.
• Scour photo albums for old photos and ask those in them to recall what they remember. Their stories might be different but that’s part of the fun.
• If you recently lost someone near to you, ask each family member to share a favorite story or memory about that person.
• Share fun facts about your children with them—their first words and favorite foods, funny things they liked to do, or how you felt the day you gave birth to or adopted them.
• Ask family to write their memories down as a story to share. Then surprise them over the holidays with a book of compiled family memoirs to cherish forever.
• Ask a family member to come over and make their special recipe with you. Make sure to take pictures! My family is all about food. When we gather, we know we’re going to eat like kings. We love trying new recipes, but there’s always those tried-and-true ones we just gotta have at least once a year. Whether it’s Nana’s Sausage Lasagna, Grandma’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Aunt Teresa’s Dill Pickle Dip or Uncle Richard’s Thanksgiving Stuffing, gather those recipes in a cookbook or recipe tin for all generations to enjoy.
• When putting down your little ones, put down the storybook and tell a family story instead. Your rendition doesn’t have to be perfect. Just tell it how you remember it, with lots of detail.
If it doesn’t feel awkward, video or record these stories so you don’t forget a thing. Or jot down a few notes. Because we always think we’ll remember…but you know how that goes.
Every family has a story to tell. Stories that inspire us. Stories that bind us to one another and give us a sense of belonging. Stories that teach us and stories that make us laugh until we cry. These stories shorten the miles between us. And these stories are family heirlooms to be held forever in our hearts, not collecting dust on a shelf. Open your family’s book and share a chapter today.
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© Rachael Liska, happyhearthappyhome.com
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