Part of the art of storytelling is not just the story but the way it is presented. Two people could tell the same story but, if told separately to you, you would likely get two different takes on it. Is that ‘bad’? Not necessarily. Not in the context of what you may be going after -- the art of sharing a story. I learned that when collecting family history from the elder members of my family. With so many pictures for them to peruse and comment on I didn’t have time to write down data on each picture. Nor could I write fast enough or clear enough to catch all that they were saying. What to do? Tape-record the stories!
Although it took time for the older family member to stop glancing at the tape recorder in nervousness or consternation, the pictures laid out before them soon caught their interest. Then you got your first smile. Followed by a big grin. And then the stories started. Words flowed, as did laughter and sometimes tears. You might even catch the slap of a leg on tape as Uncle George (or whomever) grinningly reacted to a picture that got its first leg-slap 40 years ago after its first telling of some escapade that he was a part of. Of course, his partner-in-crime (my own father) had HIS version of the story too! With his own leg-slapping. Did they match? Usually not, but it didn’t matter. It was that time together and the telling of the story.
All of that older generation is gone now -- but I have on tape their voices, their laughter, and their memories. Back in my own home I could then transfer the recorded data to specific pictures. One can pick and choose what to actually add onto or under the old pictures – perhaps leaving space for ‘another version’ of the story from another relative! (A suggestion is to grab your own pictures & tape recorder and please, get those voices and memories on tape from your own family members . . . while you still can. I cannot emphasize how special it is to listen to them years later.)
A technique in recording your own stories and/or writing them down? A suggestion is to listen to people you like listening to. It could be an older relative’s quiet voice, or as different as a comedian telling a story in a way that you never get tired of. One I like in style & presentation is Bill Cosby. He not only tells a story with humor that makes you smile, but he gets a point across in a way that makes you think. And remember. Nothing wrong with recognizing and perhaps honing a style close to your own that helps laying it out – either factual data or maybe just the story.
One person’s style I observed and enjoyed was a guy named Frank in Scotland. While Teri and I were touring a historic house in Sterling, Scotland, he was the tour guide. After touring many places, walking around and ‘just listening’ was by now routine for us. However, I noted myself listening with more interest to this guy – not because the house was more fascinating than any of the other historic houses or castles. No – because Frank himself was! Think the old-fashioned Ichabod Crane . . . A strange looking fellow, he used that feature to his advantage. While wringing his hands with expressions of despair and dismay one moment to wide flares of his arms and looks of elation the next, he kept all of us enthralled as he took us from room to room and event to event. He carried on like he had personally experienced the dramas of long ago but was delighted that he was back in the here-and-now to share them with us. Only when he finished did he ‘break character’ and say with a smile, “Ladies & Gentlemen, I hope you enjoyed the tour as you listened to my stories, lies and exaggerations!” It was then that I realized why I had enjoyed this particular tour the most; we had experienced a lesson in history by a master story teller.
Was everything he said (and how he said it) totally historically ‘accurate?’ Probably not. His tales were fantastical. But I found myself wanting to not only follow his stories, but believe them. And wanting to hear more. And, like Frank, I enjoy sharing an exaggeration . . . Or perhaps a lie or two . . .
And the stories continue . . .