I come from a long line of storytellers.
My paternal grandfather came to America from Norway in the early 1900s and lived with us on the farm during my entire childhood. He would tell us stories about what life was like in Norway, describing strawberries as big as tea cups and a beautiful mountainous land that seemed like a far-off fantasy compared to our prairie roots.
When my oldest brother and I were preschoolers, before my middle brother came along, my father would tell us bedtime stories as he tucked us in every night. Sometimes he recalled his experiences on a ship in the Aleutian Islands during World War II, describing the huge glaciers that would break off and crash into the water with deafening sound. Other times he’d make up oddball tales, like a mechanical eagle that kept running out of gas.
It was only natural, then, when my kids were old enough to understand bedtime stories, I followed in Dad’s footsteps. My girls loved listening to me recount some of their own most humorous and endearing moments: a scary encounter with our big rooster, their run-in with a rambunctious goat on our hobby farm or the time a huge owl flew out of a tree and startled us as we were picking chokecherries.
The stories they loved the best, though, were the continuing adventures of Maggie the Grocery Store Cat. It was a story I conjured up one night, and then kept building on it. Maggie lived with the grocery-store owner, Mr. Johnson, and after her chores were done (she had to sweep the floors and keep the cans of tuna stocked on the store shelves) she was free to go on all kinds of adventures.
Maggie went everywhere and did everything, the wilder the better. But I always built in a moral of the story, teaching the Golden Rule and instilling all of the virtues I wanted my daughters to have, to be compassionate, kind and caring.
When my granddaughter turned 2 last October, I reactivated the Maggie series, not sure if she was too young to understand. About a month ago I told her a couple more Maggie stories as I put her down for naps. She seemed attentive before she drifted off to sleep.
It was only after I left that I realized the impact of my stories. About a week later my daughter texted me: “Oh, boy what you’ve started with Maggie the Grocery Store Cat. It’s all she’s wanted since you left,” she said, explaining that she’s now the storyteller. “That cat has gone to the beach, the park, the aquatic center; she’s climbed a mountain, ate too much ice cream, gotten a fever, flown to Hawaii and thrown a 40th anniversary party for the store, all in a few short weeks…”
And so the storytelling torch has been passed to the next generation, and I’m thrilled it will continue. I read mountains of books to my daughters, too, but there’s something about storytelling that evokes the imagination and settles in one’s soul.
Storytelling is as old as time, yet it’s perhaps more valuable than ever as our technology-driven world draws us farther away from one-on-one conversation. I never knew the true impact of my storytelling and the connection it created between us until my oldest daughter came down with the flu when she was 12. Even as a spirited preteen, in the throes of fever and body aches her first request was this: “Mommy, can you tell me a story?”
So those time-honored words set the stage yet again: “Once upon a time…”
Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.