Monday, October 08, 2012

Family Stories : : Anne McAllister

Once upon a time .  . .

We all know stories that start that way, stories that our whole culture participates in, stories that provide insights and convey morals and, with luck, end with the words, “Happily ever after.”

800px-Steam-powered_sailing_ship_and_other_craft_by_moonlightThey are the stories that are conveyed through myth (though some of them certainly don’t end happily) and are made into movies or television shows.  They may be about a specific time or place, but they also express a universality. 

But every family has its own stories, too, the tales that make us who we are.  In my family we tell stories about sailing ships that crossed the ocean, about grandfathers who came to America seeking the American dream, about men going away to war, dying, and turning up forty years later living in the next county with a new wife. 

We tell stories about cowboys and Indians (we’re both in all the stories). We tell stories about riots in the streets, bombings of union halls, working on the roads throughout the depression.  We tell stories of wildcatting in the oil fields of Texas and joining utopian communes in New Jersey.  We tells stories about crossing the plains in November and December, sleeping under the covered wagon all winter to be there for the sale of railroad land in the spring.

We tell stories about delivering newspapers when it was 30 degrees below zero.  We tells stories about when the dog was lost – and blessedly found.  We tell stories about when George Washington slept here (or there) and which of the silver spoons (there are two) that served him the meal.  We tell stories of murders and gunfights, of trials and acquittals.   We tell stories of gin-swilling aunts and ne’er-do-well uncles, of daredevil adventurers and devoted moms and dads. 

No 438px-Covered_wagondoubt you do, too.  These are the stories that tell us where we came from, that make us smile or wince or shake our heads in wonder.  They are the stories we mine if we are writers, the ones that worm their way into our books because they have become part of our emotional landscape. 

Every time I write a book, I find myself digging not only into my grab-bag of locations gleaned from my travels (and judicious use of Google Earth and travel sites online), and into memories of teenage angst, love at first sight, tears of loss, and the joy of reunion, but also into the stories that have been told to me since I was too young to remember.  They not only have made me who I am, they’ve made my characters who they are. 

When I sit down at the computer, I don’t  plan to use those stories.  I don’t have to. They are simply there.  Are they true?  in actual fact, I don’t usually know. But emotionally they resonate. They provide explanation, they give meaning.  Mostly whatever else they say, they say that through whatever life throws at us, we are resilient. We can survive. 

Romance stories tell us that, too.  But they say that we do it better in relationships.  We want our happily-ever-afters, no matter what.

What do your family stories tell you? 


Larry D. Moore [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons


John said...

This is really worth reading, it has too much details in it and yet it is so simple to understand

Accredited High School Diploma Online

Pat Cochran said...

Our family tales include maternal grand-
mother's Hessian grandfather, she was
born in Mexico; maternal grandfather:
born in Mexico/Spanish ancestry, came to
New Mexico, worked for several years in
mining and was able to bring wife and
children to U.S., was 108 y/o when he died;
paternal grandmother: born in Mexico, told
of Incan ancestry in her family history;
paternal grandfather: born in Mexico of
parents born in Spain, was an excellent
carpenter, helped my Dad build our family
home. Both sets of grand-parents raised
large families.

Pat Cochran

Mary Preston said...

I come from a family that loves to look back & remember stories told about our past. We chase up documents where possible too. I've got copies of birth, marriage & death certificates that go back generations. So much fun to read through. I come from Viking stock on my Father's side. On my Mother's side we obviously rambled all over Great Britain.

As my Mother says: "We may come from common stock, but we are not common."

Eli Yanti said...

nothing special with my family tale but my grandmom love to tell about the past, about colonies, soldier etc

Lory Lee said...

My grandfather was a Filipino guerilla. He fought for our country and because of it, he became deaf but he still works like anybody else. Miss him. :(