The Stories we Tell


There is one absolutely awesome thing about being a parent, certainly there are many, but my absolute favorite is being able to scare my children via stories.  This may sound cruel, but it isn’t, because I can say with about 90% certainty that my sons will never fall into a lake, become Carnies, pick up hitchhikers, or wander out into traffic.  Mind you the boys are tweens and a teen, so things that I used to scare them away from are useless and the interesting part is they have realized that my stories (even when they are completely made up) are interesting.  They now know there is no such thing as a “swamp witch”, an evil creature that was said to lurk at the end of my parents long driveway, but they stayed away from the road and the snapping turtles throughout their youth.

Some of these stories really have no purpose other than in telling them, they create a legacy.  Stories live on.  For example, stories that end in “and this is why you should never camp by a river” or “that is why jumping on railway cars is a bad idea” have no moral, but they are fun to tell.  Of course, I have to construct an elaborate tale of the time I jumped on a railway car and ended up in Missouri where I was mistaken for a wanted criminal, who had escaped on a railway car from Mississippi.  I then had to stay in jail for days until the police sorted the whole thing out and my picture was in the paper in St. Louis and this is why you stay away from the railroad tracks and/or never ride on a train.

There is always some grain of truth to these stories, as I would not consider my life boring in the least.  I don’t tell them these tales because it makes my life seem interesting, I tell them because I can.  I have tried to write stories, but who am I, Aesop? Telling stories requires a certain type of gift to weave in truth and fiction and captivate your audience through inflection or other rhetorical devices you can only do with speech.  You must also be prepared for questions and demands for future stories…the latter inevitably leads to me saying something like “well after I picked up that second maniacal hitchhiker, I think I learned my lesson, wouldn’t you?”

Of course we can always tell stories that are 100% true, but what is the fun in that?  Actually I have told some of those, but only in dire times.  The story of being rufied by a female bartender and calling the National Guard in (and yes someone from the Guard did come to the bar I was at, but I forgot what I called them for…it remains a fuzzy picture of someone in uniform with weapons ready) has been told and my kids are more afraid of ending up doing something ridiculous than something bad happening to them.  The story ends with “and this is why you don’t drink….do you want to call the National Guard and embarrass yourself?” It remains a funny story to them and it actually isn’t funny really.  I simply chose to remember the more dramatic parts of my life (a theme) then an actual plot (everything else). There does remain a moral to that story and it is that you have to be careful who you trust and The Hangover was a funny movie, but that tiger could have eaten them…. “and this is why you never feed animals at the zoo…”

I seriously doubt other mothers do this.  The only thing even close this that I have ever seen is in the movie Big Fish, which admittedly makes me cry every time I watch it.  Ironically I also have a story to tell as to why it makes me cry that ends up with “and this is why you never fall in love with someone who is dating a princess”, although I don’t actually tell that story, because it is of no use to boys at all.  I have strived to be more elaborate in my stories as I have grown older and it was something that I remember, really one of the only things, about my Grandpa.  He told “tall tales” about catching alligators and armadillos although he lived nowhere near those kinds of animals.  I used to think it was a Southern trait, but I realize that isn’t the case, even though Big Fish might have a person think otherwise and my Grandpa being from the South and all…

The only problem with this is that people never know when you are telling the truth or weaving a fiction.  This isn’t the same thing as lying, of course, but it does effect the quality of time I have together with my kids and I have learned the hard way to tell these stories on neutral ground where they feel safe.  They will refuse to sit by a campfire and listen to a story, for example and they cringe when we go fishing and I have a Loch Ness monster story to tell.  But when the power goes out and we have nothing to do other than to talk to each other or we are in the car, I begin “Don’t ever think it is a good idea to become a rodeo clown…” and I just bet that they will remember every last detail even though I will forget it as soon as I have told it.  They can now, after all, describe the swamp witch in vivid detail and to my delight, I think that have added some extra details to the story…

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