Episode 769 The Family Story
This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.
"This huge elephant was dragging a big pole that they use right in the middle of The Big Top which is what they call the big tent that a circus is performed in. The trainer was sitting on his neck right behind those big ears. He had a steel stake in his hand that was used to stake the elephant when he wasn't performing or being used to haul stuff.
The elephant must have done something that the trainer didn't like because he swung the big stake right down on the elephant's head - right between the eyes. The elephant crumbled to the ground right there. I just remember looking directly at the bottom of the elephant’s big foot. I was about your age - 5 or 6 years old." My grandkids were all eyes and ears as I told the story of being taken to see the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey circus set up in Springfield Illinois by my uncle Ben who was a true railroader. This was some seventy years ago.
The elephant died right there. My grandkids stared off into space as I told the story. Their eyes were wide and unblinking. I then went on to talk of two more two more encounters with elephants in Africa. One where elephants came right through our tent camp one night and I didn't even wake up. And one where a herd of elephants blocked the narrow trail I was trying to drive a land rover down. It was amazing how quiet the kids were. This is what I would call premium time; premium family time. They were learning something about their grandfather of which they know very little.
It is important to share information from one generation to the other. Just today the New York Times had an article about the importance of sharing family stories from one generation to the next. It claimed that this history gives stability and a sense of identity to children. This stability and sense of self control helps establish a positive psychological grounding that enables children to face realities of life.
Soon after the studies concerning knowledge about their own family were conducted the twin towers were destroyed. The researchers returned to the kids and found the reaction to the attack was much better handled by children with a solid knowledge of who they were and where they came from.
Kids need to know where their parents met, where they were raised and went to school. They need to know where their grandparents lived and what they did for a living. They need to know what it is that holds the family together.
This is where we retired people can flourish. We can tell the stories. We can share with our grandchildren the historical antidotes that tie a family together. We can write them down or even better we can tell the story in plain language with all of the inflections and nuances that bring life to the past.
Of course I love the sound of the human voice. You can guess that by my interest in publishing this podcast. I have been a radio fan as far back as I can remember. I love to listen to audio books. I love to listen to poetry being read by the poet. There is something about the voice that reaches inside. Hearing Robert Frost's rough, rumbling voice "a boy could do worse than be a swinger of birches." Or Sandburg slide out that flatland tone from the central Illinois plain. The Poetry Foundation is one of my favorite web sites and they have an iPad app. It is so much fun to click on one of the audio poems available and let the story and sound soak through to your bones.
The radio resembles an abstract painting in that certain elements are given to the viewer or listener and they can and must fill in the details: just how tall was she? Just how big was the mountain? How beautiful was the dress? How fast was the gunman? Just how sad did the young boy look? The listener keeps his eyes open and the mind going a mile a minute. It requires focus and imagination.
For over fifty years we have eaten dinner in the dark. We sat at a round table. We have two candles providing the only light. We have no electronics playing. We talk. Our kids were raised this way in Alaska. And my wife and I have continued this ritual to this day. We talk. The story is told. The story of the day, the story of our plans, the story of our anger, the story of our friends, the story of our life. It all pours out across the table.
The article in the times ended with:
The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.
We retired folks have a role to play if we choose.
All this talk about stories, family history and poetry leaves me thinking about a most dramatic poem of a family story. I’ll leave you with this poem by Robert Frost:
The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap—
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all—
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart—
He saw all spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off—
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
Frost published that in 1915 - more than one hundred years ago. It was based on an actual incident.
This is Retirement Talk.