Monday, July 23, 2012

The Stories We Tell

Old Books by kraybon on flickr

We all have stories - stories that explain who we are, where we come from, who we love. For each of the people in our lives, there are specific stories that stand out - that in some way represent that person. Those are the stories that become family lore (like how my great-grandma refused to make cornbread ever again after one comment from her husband). They shape our perceptions and expectations of people we meet.

These stories have power. They're alive and they keep us alive. I never had a chance to meet my son's namesake - he passed years before I met my husband - but through the stories I've heard from the people who knew and loved him, I've been able to know him in some way too.

These stories can make us laugh. The one I use to sum up my husband come from first grade. His teacher, who obviously shouldn't have been around first grade boys, told him to glue his butt to his seat. He proceeded to get out his glue and literarily glue his pants to his desk chair. She recognized this as the act of defiance that it was and called his mother. My mother-in-law, the saint that she is, asked why the teacher was so upset. He did exactly what he was asked to do. Subversive little seven-year-old, wasn't he?

These stories can make us cry. The story goes that my great-grandfather spent his last day on earth in his beloved garden, preparing it for the summer. He went to bed that night and never woke up. That chokes me up every time. Or the letter Civil War soldier Sullivan Ballou wrote home to his wife the week before he died (read it here: Sullivan Ballou's Letter). His wife, widowed at 24 with a young son, never remarried. How could she?

The stories we tell matter. The true ones and the ones that are true in our hearts. As a writer of fiction, the stories I make up sometimes are more important than the ones from my real life. The stories I've read in beloved books are no less real because they didn't happen. They still shaped me and informed my understanding of the world. 

Be careful with the stories entrusted to you - whether real or imagined. You hold the world in your words. 


  1. WOW. What a powerful post, Jenny. Seriously awesome.

    That Civil War letter? and that story about your Grandfather? SHIVERS.

    Thank you for sharing them. <3

  2. Wow- wonderful post.
    You have inspired me to write one of my stroies today.