Sunday Afternoon Rocking

Ears to Hear

Yesterday my daughter and I drove miles within a fifteen-mile radius, over and over again, up one road and down the other, back again. Yesterday my daughter, who never seemed interested before, was a visitor to her own hometown. We did not plan the excursion. I simply passed a place we had passed every day of her life and repeated a story from my youth that she had heard before. Overnight she realized she had not stopped to look at the places she had seen every day for all of her life. Overnight she realized she had not heard me when I had told the same stories I told again yesterday. Suddenly she could not get enough. Up and down and all around we drove, she pumping me for more information about the places and people I had known. She eagerly asked, "how this place used to be", what that land once was, who had owned it, who the people were who had owned that business, what had happened to "these people". I told the same stories, and her enthusiasm fed my own. I reached deeper, pulling out memories and tidbits I had not thought about in years. She marveled at the tales that she could remember me telling, but suddenly were taking on a "new life" for her. And I marveled, that my now adult daughter, come to visit, now had caught the spark, now could hear, now would eagerly question. At last, what I have waited so long for has begun. And now I can be assured, our oral history will continue.

There is a good deal to be said for oral history. It may not take the place of an aged bonafide document, but it is infinitely more interesting. The colorful slants on a situation or thing assumed by the teller paint a picture of the attitude of a time better than any cold print can. The memories passed on are filtered, teller after teller, until only the main nugget of interest remains. Embroidered they may be, and such embroidery has misled many a descendent, but somewhere in even the telling of them lies a fact, or the story would not be worthy of its passage through the conversations of the years.

Once a little girl tugged at a grandmother's sleeve, and good-humoredly the older lady told tales of an Irish lad on a ship who grew up to become a Confederate soldier. Another day of begging for a story brought a "haint tale" of a many greats grandfather who worked an iron furnace and reappeared to ask a long ago peer to go to a "hiding place", as his family left behind would now need that money. Still another story was told of a native American family who wandered until they found a "safe place" nestled in the heart of the Tennessee hills, where they superficially put aside their heritage, but remembered it in the telling to their own. On and on the stories went, unwinding like a ball of colorful yarn to spill into the lap of the little girl who would one day set out to see for herself which of those stories were embroidered, and which held an element of truth. Her dream would be to take all of that colorful yarn and knit it together into a grand adventure of a coverlet to wrap securely around a family's sense of self. I have yet to "prove" all of those stories, but all, I have found, contained that nugget "of truth". And more than a few of the stories have pointed me in the direction of the aged bonafide document called "proof". The documents we want, they prove our names and dates upon the paper. But the oral history is in some way, infinitely more precious. How many times, I have wondered, were the stories my grandparents told me, told before? How many ears have heard them, and how many heard them with ears that were awake? Why were the stories so important that they were never lost with the multitudinous events of the past? Why, because they were important, of course! Because the day of inception was one in a family, that was to be remembered. Because the event was considered at the time to be a momentous one in a history. Because the teller wanted those to come to know, and because those who came heard, and thought those who came still later should know. And so the stories came to me. And one day my daughter had ears to hear. Another day, perhaps, she will pull out those stories, she will dig deep in her memory, she will remember what seemed most momentous to her in the telling, and she will have a child with ears to hear, I hope.

Just a thought,

Copyright ©2001JanPhilpot



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