Family Folklore

Every family has its stories.  There are funny stories, sad stories, remarkable stories and just plain old stories.  The stories are familiar and make family members feel connected in a very special way.

In my family we have a collection of stories that have become family folklore.  The telling of these stories often begins with “Tell me about the time…”.  It is remarkable to me that we can tell the same stories again and again and they don’t get old or boring.

As a child, my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles introduced me to the joy of family folklore.  I heard reverent stories and hilarious stories.  According to family folklore, my paternal great, great grand-father was a lighthouse keeper in Ireland.  The stories about him share insight into a different time and way of life.  In contrast, one of my favorite stories is about my maternal grandfather, whom I adore, taking his children out for iced cream.  As the story goes, he reached a point of such frustration with the bad behavior of his kids that he kicked the running board of his car as he was holding a tray of iced cream.  He unfortunately missed hitting the running board with his foot and hit it with his shin – ouch!  In pain, he threw the tray of iced cream up over his head.  In disbelief, my mother and her siblings watched the iced cream fly through the air and fall to the ground.  I love this story about my mom, her siblings and her father.  It is so real.  Stories connect generations.

I now hand down stories to my children from my youth.  Sometimes my stories are serious.  Sometime my stories are silly.  But my stories make the personalities of the older generation in our family more vivid.  My kids and niece and nephew giggle in delight when my brother and I recount crazy tales of our childhood.  It is fun for them to envision their parents, aunts and uncles as little kids.

My favorite nights are when I am sitting at dinner with my kids and they request to hear the stories of their births.  The fact that I can tell each of their personal stories, rich with detail, makes them feel incredibly important.  As parents, we all do this.  Jamie Lee Curtis captures this idea beautifully in her book, Tell Me Again About the Night I was Born.  In this book, a parent tells the story of her child’s birth.  The child knows the story by heart and asks immediately to hear it told again.  As the book ends, you know that the ritual of telling this story is core to fiber of their family.

I also love recognizing when we are making a family folklore moment.  When he was 4 years old, my youngest son bought a fishing lure with his own money.  On his first cast, with the new lure, he hooked the most enormous snapping turtle that you have ever seen.  We reeled in the turtle, took pictures and salvaged the lure.  It was wild.  And we retell the story all the time.  The memory of the event will never be lost because it has become part of our book of family folklore.

Be conscious of the value of family folklore.  Oral tradition has existed since the beginning of time to share history.  Share stories with your kids and capture memories when they are being made.  Story telling has defined entire cultures.  Take the opportunity to create a culture of connectedness in your own family through family folklore.