The Taser's Edge


Genogram of Me: Intimacy and the Practice of Storytelling

And now for the second helping of my family history project:

“[My interviewer] helped me link my feeling of intimacy with my mother’s side with the practice of storytelling.  As has already been discussed, I know nothing about the experience of mental illness or of reproductive problems (specifically, terminated pregnancies) on my father’s side of the family, although statistically it would seem that there must be some.  As I was talking to [my interviewer], I joked with her that I was realizing that I know roughly as much about the childhood of my father and his siblings as we know about the life of Jesus from the Gospels.  Strangely, it is actually true.  There are times when their shared childhood is referenced, but it is only in passing, and only in fragments.  There is never a narrative.  Part of me wonders as I write this how this corresponds to the way that the Js keep records.  Grandma has thousands of pictures of the family and has kept virtually every card or letter that has ever been sent to her or anyone living under her roof.

On my mother’s side, there are very few physical records, although HH does love exploring genealogy.  Instead, there is storytelling.  While I know very little about my own father’s childhood, I have heard many stories of Mamaw and Papaw H’s childhoods, along with their interactions with family members of theirs whom I never knew.  Mamaw H would tell us stories of how she wanted to be an actress when she was growing up (perhaps making the ‘failed musical dreams’ trend into a ‘failed performer’s dreams’ trend); how she and her sisters used to walk into town and watch Saturdays full of cowboys-singing and otherwise-at the theater; how she once got to meet Lash La Rue (a B-movie cowboy who, according to imdb.com was married and divorced at least ten and possibly twelve or more times in his life); how H once got B, her younger sister by ten years, to put a dead mouse in her mouth when they were children, telling her, “Open your mouth and close your eyes, and I will give you a big surprise.”

Papaw H would tell us of his grandma’s mean rooster which he killed with a brick to the head and then lied about to his grandmother, who doted on him so much that she pretended to believe his story that the misbehaving brick had fallen on the rooster’s head, then cooked up the rooster and served it to the family; and about the dog whom Papaw taught to wipe its feet at the door after his mother named this as an intentionally impossible precondition to the dog coming indoors.

Mom would tell us of how she would play with her brothers and cousins; of their goat and dog which became best friends, eating leaves off of trees and chasing cars together; of their bull, Roja, which chased mom and her brother G when they got off the school bus, which chased their mom around a tree while she was late in her pregnancy with M, and how Mamaw M came out and chased the bull away with a broom; about how good that bull tasted when they butchered it later that year.

On my father’s side of the family, the stories are far fewer and much less often told, but they are the points at which I feel the most intimacy with my father and his family, especially with my grandfather to whom many or most of them relate, as he applied his engineer’s brain to running a household, whether installing a buzzer system with a certain number of buzzes coded to each child (all of whom raised exactly “by the book”–Dr. Benjamin Spock), experimenting in the basement with growing beans in magnetic fields, or using a decibel-meter to make sure he was listening to his beloved opera at the same volume it would be if he were at a live performance.  As I consider it now, perhaps the fact that most of the stories I know about that family have to do with my grandfather, is why I like him so much, and why I see our similarities so strongly (although I am the one J son who lacks the engineer’s brain).

Even with some stories on each side of the family, in my mother’s family, storytelling is a cherished art of cherishing history.”


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I LOVE those stories. I remember sitting with Mom time and time again, asking her to tell us stories of when she was little. This is an interesting idea–how storytelling links us to those people. I like it.

Comment by Ben




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