Telling stories

I’ve been scanning some of my mother’s slides recently. The thing that prompted the most photographs was travel. She took several really big trips after my father died, including bicycle trips in China and Sri Lanka. The travel bug, however, was something that affected both of my parents. Before my father died, they traveled many places including Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, all around the United States, Mexico, Belize, Europe, the Bahamas, and more. Sorting through all of those photographs and looking at images of my parents in places where I was not along for the trip prompted a lot of memories for me. I’ve been telling a lot of stories about my parents recently. And I have a ready audience in our grandchildren.

My father died the fall before our son was born. Our children never got to know him face to face. They both have plenty of first-had memories of their other grandparents, but they got to know my father through stories that were told by others. Still, our children have a good sense of who my father was. Our son enjoys wearing his jackets with the John Deere logo and knows where they came from. Our daughter understands when I buy John Deere toys for her son and appreciates the gesture.

Yesterday while they were eating lunch, our grandchildren enjoyed a story about my father that I told them. My father had four brothers and one sister. Their sister was the oldest child in their family and often worked alongside our grandmother as another parent for the little boys. The boys were given chores on the farm, mostly care of animals. One of the chores was to lead the cows out of the barn to pasture after milking. This was a twice-a-day chore and the boys were always trying to figure out different ways to get the job done. One day they decided to let the dog into the barn before they opened the big barn doors. In when the dog while my father ran around the barn to open the big doors. As he started to push the big doors on their overhead rollers, the cows were so eager to leave the barn that they rushed through the opening, knocking him off his feet. One cow stepped on his side as he lay in the mud, skinning a large area and leaving him tender and sore for several days. The boys decided that their technique was not very good and didn’t try the dog in the barn with the cows trick again.

After dinner, our grandson asked for more stories and I remembered the story of the boys spending an entire day packing snow into the bleachers at the fairgrounds to make a ski slope. They only had one pair of skis and those were not really intended for downhill racing, but the idea of becoming downhill skiers appealed to them. They finally got enough snow packed around the bleachers to make the first run, which resulted in a broken ski and a broken leg, ending their great ski hill. Telling the story now, after all of the players in the story have passed away, made us all laugh at their ingenuity and resourcefulness. We could see how a pretty risky idea had seemed like a good idea to those boys growing up on a North Dakota farm in the winter.

That story prompted a request for another and I told a story that I often hear from my father, my uncles, my aunt and my grandmother about the time when the boys were charged with painting the windmill tower. They rigged a rope over part of the structure to pull up the bucket of paint, planting the youngest boy at the bottom to pull the rope and hoist the paint to where the others could grab it and paint the top of the tower. Uncle George pulled the rope until the edge of the paint can got hung up on a cross brace. Then, looking straight up at the bucket he gave the rope a big jerk that caused the can to turn over and dump out all of the paint. All of the boys tried to scrub all of that red paint off of George’s face and out of his hair, but he wouldn’t come clean. They had to take him home red faced and he remained that way for quite a while before there were no more traces of red paint.

“Tell us more stories, Grandpa!” was the cry, but it was time for the children and their father to head for their farm. They all needed to get home in time for bed to be ready for a busy week. Christmas is coming and there is no shortage of excitement among the children. And grandpa needs to save some of his stories for other occasions. Some of the stories I know need to wait for a later time, when our grandchildren are older, to be told.

One of the things that interested me is that our son reported that he had never heard any of the three stories I told yesterday. They are stories that I knew when he was a child, but somehow telling them never occurred when he was growing up. We had plenty of other stories to tell and while there were no shortage of stories about my father, those particular ones didn’t get told.

The process made me think of the stories that our people have told over the years. These days we have an entire Bible of the stories of our people. Our stories are thousands of years old. And the Bible doesn’t contain all of the stories. Some have been lost because there were too many to be told over and over again and treasured. No matter how many times you read the Bible, you won’t find any stories about Jesus’ teenage years. No matter how many times you read, you won’t hear how Abraham met Sarah. Some stories have been lost to the passage of years.

Who knows which stories will be the treasures of future generations? It isn’t for me to say, but it is important that I pass on the stories I know so that my grandchildren will have a full compliment from which to choose when it becomes their time to tell the stories.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!