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Monday, June 28, 2010

Telling Family Stories

Attended a class on preserving family history. The teacher shared an article entitled Forging Family Bonds through Storytelling.

Oooh, my ears perked up!

The author, a David Dollahite, was speakin' my language!

Here's part of his message:
"Storytelling is a very important and a very neglected part of family life. Storytelling is a vital part of family life that we should be more actively involved with, but we tend to be overwhelmed with other, more passive, forms of entertainment, such as television, the Internet, video games, and radio. There are many ways to weave storytelling in your own family..

...The stories our children crave are about life as it is lived. They have surprise twists, heroes, and action. Stories capture the essence of life. They often involve a change of heart. They give the best examples we have of how to change and why to change.

If you are at all reluctant about sharing your stories with your children, think about the greatest teachers you know or speakers you have heard. Your joy in their words probably comes, in large part, from their excellent storytelling. You, as a listener, remember stories more than you remember abstract ideas. "

He gave several excellent examples of meaningful ways to tell stories that guarantee a captured audience. I know that I paid attention!
"One story I often tell is about my father. He was a police officer for 17 years in our hometown during a time when there were a lot of problems with drugs, riots, and violence. And, somehow, our town was a kind of Mecca for these problems. I knew, as a boy, that he was out dealing with the “bad guys” and putting his life in danger, but one night that reality came home in a very powerful way. I was 12, and my best friend was over, having dinner with my family. Our house was on a busy street, and it was not uncommon to hear a car backfire. And, sure enough, while we were eating we heard what sounded like a car backfiring. But then we heard someone scream, “Help, I’ve been hit! I’ve been hit! Please help me!” Before my friend and I even realized someone had been shot, my father, who wasn’t on duty, ran into his bedroom, grabbed his gun, and ran out the door.

Of course, my friend and I thought this was really cool, so we ran to the front window to watch my dad go after the bad guys. My mom, however, had a different reaction, and she pulled us away from the window, pulled down the shade, locked the front door, and made us go into the back of the house. And then she just sat there and literally shook and shivered until my dad came home. That’s the first time I really realized that my dad was a hero. But I also realized, for the first time, what my mom had to live with every day, as her husband went off each day and put his life in danger.

My father now lives with us, and my telling this story helps my children appreciate the old guy who sits by them at the dinner table and gives them candy in a very different way than they would without that story. Now they think, “Wow, Papa was a real hero.” It is one way I turn the hearts of my children to my father."

Here's another story. Short and sweet, but NEVER to be forgotten!
"I often tell my children about their great grandfather Iver from Norway, who had a very exciting life. He escaped death numerous times; in fact, he came into the port of Birmingham about two weeks after the Titanic set sail, and was hired as a merchant marine on the next major ship to set sail from that port.

After he immigrated to the United States, he worked as a logger in Minnesota and lived in a small cabin in the woods. Each day, he would go home for lunch, and one of his coworkers started coming over everyday as well, which disturbed Grandpa Iver because he was, by nature, a private person. He wanted his coworker to stop coming, but he was uncomfortable with confronting the man directly, so he had to use his wits. So the next time this man came over, Grandpa Iver took the plates off the table after they had finished lunch, put them on the floor, and allowed his dog to lick them clean. Grandpa Iver then put the plates back into the cupboard, and the man never came back for lunch."
When's the best time for storytelling? All of the time, or any time you can! Try to tell share a story at your next family meal. Not only will this potentially prolong your time together around the table, but you might hear all sorts of 'never-before-heard' stories in this relaxed setting. Bedtime is another perfect opportunity for some undivided one-on-one time. Planning a summer vacation that includes long stretches of time in the car? Turn off the electronic distractions and add storytelling to your list of travel activities. You might be surprised how fast the time goes as you swap stories back and forth!

One piece of advice that the author gave that is quite prudent... Don't tell stories at the expense of other family members. If it's unkind, hurtful or embarrassing, skip it for another story. When you think about it, the list of potential stories is endless and there is no reason to squander the time on stories that are heartless. The goal is to turn hearts TOWARDS family members!

Want to read the entire article? Click here.

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