When I was a little kid, I visualized my parents’ childhoods in black and white. Trees were not green, Dad’s hair was not red. Things were black, white and gray, just like the pictures I had seen. To a five year-old, it made perfect sense.”When you were little, it was black and white!”, I insisted. It was difficult to try and imagine them in any other way.
Visualizing my parents’ stories was important to me because their stories were important to me. Sure, I loved my Little Golden Books and my kids’ Bible (with pictures!), but I was most fascinated by things that actually happened, told first-hand. I remember my dad admitting that he just couldn’t remember as many stories from his childhood as my mom could. Thankfully, she had stories. And they were good.
I loved the one about my Uncle Jimmy shimmying up the streetlight and announcing that he was going to jump into the next convertible that drove by, or the one about her dog following her all the way to school like Mary’s little lamb, or the one about how she used to dress her baby brother Tim up like a doll and put in her bike basket while riding around the neighborhood. My mom told stories rich in detail and emotion. The older I got, the more she shared. Her first kiss was in the back row at the Pickwick Theater. When she started to doubt her feelings for my dad, he broke his leg in a bad accident. The broken leg kept him out of Vietnam, she told me, and it’s when she realized how much she loved him. Every time “I Miss You” by the Stones came on, we were regaled with the story of my Uncle Dan and Aunt Sally’s wedding- they were all up til 5 am, dancing down the street, singing that song.
My mom tells stories with ardency, no matter how many times I have asked her to repeat them. I have loved them all.
The older I get, the more I cherish both hearing and writing stories. It is my favorite thing. As far as favorite things go, I think it’s a good one. I have my mom to thank for that. Joan Didion said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Stories sustain us, bridge gaps, and nurse nostalgia. Memories of Mom kneeling by my bed, sharing her childhood by the glow of the nightlight are invaluable. She not only shared some of her sweetest moments with me, but instilled in both her kids the ability to value and learn from our own histories, our experience.
I am beholden to my mom. She is the indispensable part of my story, bright as can be, in full technicolor.