Old Traditions, New Stories
Relaxing on my parents’ porch, I watch hummingbirds vie for feeder spots and recall Dad’s story: A hummingbird came to the feeder and found it empty. It flew to where Dad sat a few feet away and hovered directly over Dad’s newspaper, then flew back and forth between paper and feeder until Dad got the message. Dad put down the paper, filled the feeder, and returned to reading as the hummingbird ate.
One family story among many, teaching me about animal intelligence.
A train whistle sounds in the distance: Long, long, short, long. The signal for a crossing. Did I ever tell you about the time… Dad retells the familiar story of his father teaching him the signals, his father explaining how the engineer made the last whistle trail off, long before my dad learned about the Doppler Effect in college. Granddaddy was a college educated man, but this physics fact was not in his knowledge base.
A family classic demonstrating how knowledge changes with each generation.
Granddaddy’s stories mostly featured animals – my favorite was about the raccoon he set free from a trap who turned back as if to say thank you – though many revealed his fascination with the paranormal. Dad’s stories detail exploits of 1940s white country boys running free. I can repeat many of my grandfather’s stories word for word. My father’s too.
I was raised on a steady diet of these family tales, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and the stories of Jesus. Though I struggle to deflect my mother’s upset that I’m not continuing the latter, this trip, I pull out Little House to read with him on their porch. We share Laura’s joy receiving one doll and one piece of candy for Christmas, learn how to make cheese and straw hats and such through Laura’s detailed accounts of frontier living, and continue weaving our understanding of the cultural stories of race and gender and religion.
You tell me a story, Dad requests, but his attempt to turn the tables is rebuffed by my son. Dad’s follow-up is telling. But you have to learn. Someday when you grow up and marry a woman and have kids and then grand-kids they’ll want your stories.
In my 20s, I would’ve said something right there and then. Now at 46, I save my commentary for bedtime conversation, alone with my son.
Remember, when Poppy was growing up, boys could only marry girls. The story Poppy was taught is that everything else was wrong and hurt you. But you can marry who you want, or not marry anybody at all. Same with having kids. You get to choose for you.
A friend once pointed out a limitation of my family’s tradition this way: I ask how you are; you tell me what you’ve done. Her observation crystallized a component of my personal story – my family story.
Acknowledging the stories we tell ourselves is a key component of my yoga practice. Regularly, I guide my students to notice the sensations in their bodies and the stories their minds create about these sensations. Then to notice the one who is noticing. We are not our stories.
On the last night of this summer’s visit, my son declares, Poppy, after supper let’s go sit on the porch and tell stories! A ploy to stave off bedtime, for sure, and an effective one. From inside, I catch strains of his chirpy young voice, lisp almost gone, and Poppy’s smooth old drawl, liquid like the iced tea he over-sweetens. What could make either of them happier? Grandfather and grandson, sharing a rocker as close up lightning bugs and distant lightning bolts illuminate the darkening August landscape.
[Photo credit: (c) E Goffredo]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ginny is a pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner, offering classes and support to busy moms carrying the pain of too much stress and too little exercise, rest, and self-care time. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice. www.ginnyhamilton.com