What are your favorite stories you learned as a child? Have you told them to your loved ones? What stories do you hope they will tell about you when you aren't around to tell them?
Long ago, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Carolinas where I grew up, storytellers were once known as "liars."
This was not to say their stories weren't true. They were true of the human condition. But they were often embellished in colorful ways that brought a story to life, making its "truth" clearer and more memorable.
Just as novelists write fiction that is "the lie that tells a truth," storytellers weave tales using facts from memory and details from imagination.
It's a common practice in all the great storytelling cultures, and especially in the South.
I grew up in a family of "liars." My grandparents and parents, my aunts and uncles, my dozens of cousins, my blind baby brother, the dogs that slept under the porch, even the fleas that slept on the dogs — they all told stories. All I had to do was listen. I learned to listen well. And I grew up to earn my living, more or less, writing stories.
The stories that I write about my family and my life are always true. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. When I write about things that happened years ago, I try to recall them as clearly as possible. But I can't always be sure of every detail — the color of a dress I wore, the size of the dog that chased me or the exact words that were spoken. So I occasionally rely on imagination to fill in the gaps. But I always stick to the facts.
My grandmother's stories changed a bit each time she told them, and I smiled at how her changes made a story better.
I loved hearing her stories. And my grandchildren seem to love hearing mine. Even the ones they've heard before.
"Tell it again, Nana!" they say. So I do, and they start laughing before I get to the funny part.
Recently, after they were done splashing each other in our hot tub, Randy, 11, Wiley, 8, and Eleanor, 6, wrapped in towels and begged to hear a Halloween story — one I've told them (and you) countless times. Here it is:
Once upon a time, when I was 10, my mother told me to make costumes from nothing and take my brothers treat-or-treating.
Denton was 4. He looked like a monkey. All he needed was a banana. Joe was 6, and totally blind. I threw a sheet over his head, but forgot to tell him he was a ghost. I made myself a tinfoil crown and off we went.
I wish you could've seen us. Denton ate his banana, but kept the peel. Joe kept tripping on the sheet. We knocked on the first door and waited. Joe said, "I hope she's got candy. I don't want no sorry apple."
Then the door flew open and we all shouted, "Trick-or-treat!"
Mrs. Fisher patted Joe's head through the sheet and said, "What a cute little ghost!"
And Joe yelled, "I ain't a ghost! I'm a mattress!"
True story, I swear, with only a few minor embellishments.
My grandkids love it. They beg me tell it again and again.
I've told them lots of stories. I hope to tell them more as they, and I, grow older. I want them to know and remember me and the big, crazy family I grew up in — all those storytellers that I knew and loved — people the kids may never have met, but who are, in fact, their family, too.
Stories are the unbreakable threads that bind generations together, that show us our roots, tell us who we are, and give us hope for all that we can be.
Tell your stories. Write them or record them or set them to music. Do it now for yourself, for your children and your grandchildren and all the children you will never meet.
My grandkids have never met their "Great Uncle Joe," but they won't soon forget him. To them, he will always be, not a ghost, but a very lovable — if somewhat cantankerous — mattress.
Sharon Randall is the author of "The World and Then Some." She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.