In his book Them Times, David Weale refers to the break. The time when the local storyteller arrives at a neighbors’ house to find he had been replaced by the radio and mass media.
Of course that storyteller was never completely replaced. I remember sitting in restaurants in Houston. My parents, Aunt, Uncle, Mimmi and adult cousins would be drinking their after dinner coffee and BB. My sister and cousin would often be two blond heads resting on their arms at the table dead to the world asleep. I would make myself as small as possible and the stories would flow. Of their childhoods, of the first hurricane they went through when they each arrived on the gulf coast spanning the 1900 storm to Carla, of going down to Fort Crockett to watch for U-boats, of the speak-easies and gambling in the Balinese Room before the Texas Rangers shut it down, of my Great-grandfather and his work on the Ship Channel after the 1900 storm.
In Canada my position was a little different, a cane back chair that just fit between the counter and Nanna’s refrigerator, where the ironing board came out of the wall. If I stayed very still they wouldn’t notice me, long after my sister and most of the cousins were asleep on the huge beds in “the girls” room upstairs. You could just smell a touch of the salt air through the open windows. Unlike home no hum of ac or fans needed.
My Uncles would tease Dad about once again putting the butter in the frig, or how could he ruin good tea by putting ice in it. There the stories were of my Pop building the baseball diamond in the back yard, of the ice rink he would build each winter to keep the kids off the river ice. Then there was the time Mom was hospitalized for pneumonia and the nurse called Nanna. “Margret, look out your window and see if you see Gerry. Press told her she was going home today and she left.” Nanna spotted Mom struggling through drifts taller than her dragging her suitcase on her way home.
The third time she was hospitalized for pneumonia, they found her riding up and down the elevator – which was a steel cage on the outside of the building. She heard the priest say no-one survives pneumonia three times and had never ridden in an elevator. If she was going to die – well she was going to ride in the elevator. She survived, not just that time but several more bouts after that.
Now my cousin posts pictures of the hockey rink he builds each winter on his facebook page. Others post to their blog about their kids or about their own stories of growing into their own person. My oldest 1st cousins are retired. My youngest 1st cousins just finished HS. Our parents were siblings but of 2 different generations in the world depression era kids and baby boomers.
A friend who does genealogy research was saying that in 50 – 100 years there will be no stack of letters yellowed and tied up with a bow for someone to find. Will the electronic record be there? Will it have been erased by movement to other forms of communication? I remember Mom writing Air Mail letters to her Mom, brothers, and sisters – at least once a week. I remember the delicate paper, and the white envelopes with the blue trim. I know she got letters for years, before long distance became easy and cheap. I have no idea where they are. Years ago I found a tape of Christmas Day my parents recorded for my Mom’s Mom. It was hidden in secret drawer of an end table. Maybe one day I will find those letters in one of the boxes of my parents stuff stuffed into my garage.
Two of my cousins have books made from their blogs each year. One does it a Christmas/New Years. The other on the birthday of her oldest, since the blog started after she was born. Will the children or their children find these books and be amazed at the history and stories recorded? Will they remember waking Mom up on a Saturday because the clock said five zero zero and it was time to go to the swim team meet?
I remember picking up Them Times off my Nanna’s coffee table intending to just flip through it. I spotted the name Preston MacIntyre. I called to the kitchen, “Nanna, is this Uncle Press they are talking about?”
Nanna replied, “Yes, remember when you were just about 5. I gave you kids ice cream as a treat, but you switched with one of your cousins and it was covered with peanuts and chocolate. I thought I was going to lose you. I called Uncle Press, and he met us at the new hospital. After he saved you, He paraded around with the whole lot of you showing off his great-grand-nieces and nephews.” Uncle Press was one of the younger brothers of my great-grandfather, and he treated 3 generations of our family. He passed shortly after that summer of the peanut ice cream. He lives on in the stories the family tells around tables on 3 continents along with all the others, who came before us.
Storytelling may take many forms but it will never die.