Family stories and storytelling have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I come from a family that talks, shares, questions and listens. It just doesn't feel like Christmas or Thanksgiving or Sunday Dinner without several people , sometimes all at once, shouting over the din. Making us roll with laughter, consider a new idea or reminisce about the old days. My father is usually the loudest. He can be found hovering over the dinner table at almost any occassion. While everyone else eats he asks questions, brings up old memories, challenges us or launches into one of his favorite often told stories. There is the one about Mama Magby and the little bottle of Hadicol she hid in her bosom. Or about the time he and his friends stole chocolate from their neighbors' mailboxes. How about how his older brother jumped off the roof pretending to be Superman and Mama was more angry that he almost ruined her good bed sheets.
My mother tells her stories quietly. They are usually wrapped up in life lessons about hard work, saving money, keeping a clean house and love. When ever I go to what my mother would consider a messy house (ok so I make the same judgments now too) I always wonder if the power went out and there was a sudden emergency, could the inhabitants get out of the house quickly without tripping and killing themselves on the piles of things on the floor? My grandfather Simon Strickland liked to have an orderly home. He took comfort in the idea that if he were to suddenly go blind, he could find anything he needed in his home and get out the door quickly and easily.
My sister, like my father, tells loud animated stories. She gestures and laughs and talks on and on and on... and on. I love to hear her talk about her childhood. Since I was born 14 years after my sister and 12 years after my brother, I missed out on all of the childhood "bonding". I wasnt even a thought when my brother would follow my sister around the house trying to do everything she did, including calling himself a princess. I'm pretty sure my mother wasnt even pregnant with me yet when the track-meet in some little New Jersey town was held up for 30 minutes because my sister (the only black student at the school) was late. This lateness I'm sure had something to do with my father's inability to ever be on time.
My brother tells his stories like my mother does; quiet, but passionate. There always seems to be a point to his stories while my dad has been said to simply talk for the pleasure of hearing his own voice. In my brother's stories he is shy, self-depricating and unsure of himself. Growing up I always wondered why his stories told of a young man who seemed completely different from the strong, loving, intelligent brother I remembered.
I grew up at the dinner table. I sat there year after year, biding my time and building my confidence until I was ready to speak. One day I did. I told a story, my family listened and I suppose I never stopped. Just like everyone else at the table I had to fight to be heard. I had to shout the loudest or be the funniest or have the most intelligent observation. I jumped into those early conversations and I was welcomed with open arms. Ok so I get a lot of ribbing about being the spoiled baby of the family who had a TV in her childhood bedroom (it was black and white and had 2 channels!!). My sister insists I talk like a Valley Girl. No, I talk like a Columbia Girl, but I digress. My family talks. Sometimes we over share. We tell and retell and tell it again. We are all imperfect but we share those imperfections too. I am so thankful that I was raised by a family like this. A family of storytellers.
Storytelling. Memory. History
We had historians long before the written word. In one part of West Africa a historian was known as a griot. A person who memorized his people's history and was responsible for remembering and retelling those stories to the next generation. He was the textbook, the library, the professor, the museum.
Story telling and memory are intertwined in incredible ways. I will be exploring not only family stories but also new methods and media for sharing stories on this page below. I welcome comments and insights.
This is my very first digital story. It is about my maternal grandmother Willie Mae Hall Strickland.
Below is a non family related digital story that I created for the Digital Storytelling class I am taking this semester.