“Do you know what happened today? The entire class, including ma’am, got lost!”
These were the words from my seven-year-old son when I picked him up from a school trip to a water park. My heart missed a beat. When I probed gently, without alarming him, I understood from his explanation that he and his friend got separated from the group (God knows for how long!) before they found their class in the canteen for lunch. The teacher did not mention it when I picked him up in the evening which meant that she too was unaware that these two went missing.
I wasn’t sure whether I should be glad of his confidence that he did not panic or get upset about the fact that the teacher did not complete her head-count of the group before moving through the various rides or wonder at the innocence of the child’s belief that a
group of 30 children and a teacher can get lost.
Every family has its own set of stories like the above woven around the members of the family. Some may be hilarious, some seriously scary or downright disgusting but it does offer a peek into the past of the person(s). For children, it offers a view of how their parents or other older members of the family were, when they themselves were young. For new-comers into the family, these shared stories offer a feeling of kinship, a sense of bonding and gives an idea about the members of the extended family. I can recall, as a new bride,
how I have laughed at the stories my eldest sister-in-law, a wonderful story teller in her own right, had narrated about my husband’s childhood while he squirmed in absolute discomfort. My mother-in-law’s narratives, which I have heard many times over, helps me appreciate the fact that how as a family, they had tided over harsh situations by astute planning, many sacrifices and simple, honest and hard work.
Make no mistake – these stories often are told and retold by various family members from their point of view [and this is the operating word]. Embellishments and variations are a part of the game, as long as the narrator stays true to the main idea. Family stories, often regaled around the dinner table, are the glue that holds families together – the younger generation learns from the follies and the virtues of the older members of the family; it allows them to even bond with ancestors who have passed on or relatives they cannot meet or connect due to the fast pace of modern life. It offers psychological support to children who then learn that ups and downs of life are quite normal and acquire skills to take it in their stride.
My mother was a master story teller – she would often regale us with stories about her own childhood, her exploits at school and at college and all of her extended family. Her style was so powerful that even after so many years, we still remember the vivid narratives. My sister who visited Sri Lanka recently was surprised, to say the very least, that the place was exactly how our mother had described it to us. As her children, we find strength and solace from her stories of sadness, endurance, patience and adversity and have acquired the
understanding that we too, can survive the dark times in our lives. Her experiences as a student where she floundered, as she shared with us, helped us to excel in our academics. She has passed on, but her memories live on, with all these shared family stories.
Unfortunately, not everyone believes or welcomes family stories. For instance, when I narrate family stories, my spouse often calls them boring and the boys catch on. This loss of family stories in the memory of my millennial sons is what I shall mourn the most. But I am an optimistic soul – after all, what are grandchildren for? I shall wait for them.
The world is made up of stories. Your family stories can build up your family legacy; strengthen the younger generation’s emotional muscle and their resilience in troubled times; and forge strong bonds among cousins and extended family members spread across
cities and countries. A sense of assurance and calm when things are difficult and joy and good cheer during meetings are what family stories are for.
These days, families are much smaller and spread out more geographically. Allow your children to carry your family memories, past and present; share tales with them, take time out to show them that you care. You can only hope that someday your children will take lessons from the lives of their ancestors, whom they may have never met and pass them on to the generations that you may never meet. For family stories are truly timeless – originate in the past and flow into the future. You are just a custodian, for the present!
The author Latha Srinivasan likes to believe that she is a good story teller too.