The Art of Storytelling

story-storytelling-word-clouds-cloud-words-tags-related-to-myth-legend-digital-tablet-35485420Today I read a friend’s post about New York’s famous “Black and White” cookies. I shared with her that my Dad used to buy giant ones when were kids, but I probably ate too many and now I get queasy just looking at them! But I started to remember how he introduced me to them. He was telling me some story of his youth and mentioned how his father would buy them for him. I didn’t understand what he was talking about because I had never heard of them. So on our next trip to the bakery, he pointed them out to me and bought a box of them home. I realized that my father ALWAYS did that. Asking my father a question would often result in a long, Cliff Huxtable-esque series of stories. But sometimes, he also took the time to show me what he was talking about. Once I saw a Ouija board in the background scenery of an old episode of Sanford & Son. I didn’t know what it was, but described it to him and asked him what it was. He not only told me – he went out and bought one for me. That was my Dad’s way. What he knew, he taught and he showed. What he wasn’t sure about, he pointed me to our big set of green and white World Book encyclopedias and encouraged me to look it up.

Of course, I have passed this down to my children. They ask me a question, I explain, then I Google it if I need to show them a picture, or enhance the story. Last summer, my children attended a funeral of an elderly family member and began asking questions about his life. For several months afterward, they would continue to ask about other family members, both living and dead. Where were they born? What did they do? How did they die? Every day, they would choose someone else to ask about and I would give them short stories about these relatives. When I shared this with their Sunday School teacher, she reminded me that this was a perfect example of storytelling. This is how family histories and oral traditions are passed down from generation to generation. I thought about this and immediately remembered how well I can recite the bulk of my maternal family history – after years of attending annual family reunions as a child and hearing our family history told each time. As a child, most of my recitation was rote, but now I can tell the story with much more depth and understanding and pass it along to my children – and even to other family members who don’t know the stories.

Let us never forget to tell stories – whether about our past, or the world around  us. Our children, especially, need to shape their worldview in context of their experiences and that of their ancestors. Never ignore a question – it can often lead to great teaching moments, moments that I know I have treasured since my own childhood.

What stories are you telling?

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The Long Way Home

A Long Road Home

A Long Road Home (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last weekend, I took the children to Toys ‘R Us to redeem gift cards. It was a surprisingly short trip, as we easily found the Power Rangers section. They then quickly spotted the toys they wanted. Easy peasy. We were in and out of the store in less than 20 minutes. We had gone to the closest TRU, which was only about 15 minutes from home and as we pulled away from the parking lot, I decided to take a longer way back home, just to spend a few more peaceful moments in the car with the kids. I immediately thought back to my childhood. My father worked at night, so during the summer, I was with him all day while my mother was at work. Daddy and I often did fun things like go to the movies, or bowling. Some days we would do some comparison shopping at stores like Two Guys, TSS, Alexander’s or Mays (what y’all know about THOSE stores?!).  And then some days, he would just run a quick errand. It was on those  days that I hoped he wouldn’t make the turn that signaled we were headed back home. I was silently wishing we would be going somewhere else before going home. I guess during our TRU errand last week, part of me wanted to satisfy that same unspoken desire of my children and take them on a little ride.

Back in 2005, during a Christmas visit with my parents in Florida, my father asked me to drive him to his doctors’ offices to deliver cookies to the staff. It was the day before I was to fly back home. What should have been a 30-minute errand turned into an all-day adventure! He had me driving all over the state of Florida…to the Cadillac dealership for an oil change, to the grocery store for some pigs’ feet he planned to cook for New Year’s, then to a new meat market some 1 ½ hours away! But during our excursion, we had such a wonderful conversation. What I remembered most about that day was the moment he suddenly said, “You know, you have become a beautiful woman and I’m very proud of you.” All ‘Daddy’s girls’ seek their father’s approval, and although I had felt his approval throughout the years, there was something special about what he said. It was then that I realized he had purposely stretched out our day to spend some extra time with me. Unfortunately the day tired him so that he was unable to drive with my mother and me to the airport the next day, and the last visual I have is of him sitting tiredly out in the living room, waiting to say goodbye.  I did not know that this would be my last time seeing him and on March 24, 2006, he passed away. I did not get to say goodbye to him, but I always have the memory of our last time taking the long road home.

Sometimes, it’s worth spending a few more miles with someone…think about it.

The Art of Spontaneity

My sister and I often compare the various combinations of traits we each inherited from both our parents. Like my mother, I am an avid planner. She has mastered the art of packing her clothes in her head, making packing her suitcase a breeze. At the same time, I carry the gene of spontaneity from my father. Daddy always had a way of just coming up with surprises. One Christmas, he decided to forego the annual pilgrimage to my aunt’s house, and we packed up the car and drove to Atlantic City for the day. My mother was not too happy with his decision, and she was quick to let him know that. It was a rather tense day, but in my heart, I was happy. Daddy had come up with one of his spontaneous plans and I loved the idea that it was just something different. He decided to go against the grain and do something he thought would be fun. By the end of the day, even Momma admitted we had a good time together as a family.

Well, that’s me…Ms. Spontaneous. I love to surprise people with off-the-cuff antics – a phone call/text message from out of the blue, a surprise lunch/dinner invitation, an email or hand-written note just to say “Hey!” Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with advance planning. For me, that is a priority! But I also remember to not get so caught up in planning things that I forget to periodically let things happen on the fly. When you have children, being spontaneous can bring them an added sense of joy. That surprise trip to McDonald’s (hey, don’t judge me!), cute little toy or book I bring home from work can make their day. For most of us, it is often the spontaneous moments that are remembered most.

What was the last spontaneous thing you did?

(31WriteNow Challenge Day 28)

A Father’s Day Tribute

Image

My Dad, Edward Campbell

This is a reprint of an original article from my June 12, 2011 column on MortarNBrique.

Years ago, my sister, my best friend and I were in the car with my parents, on our way to dinner on Mother’s Day. R&B favorite “I’ll Always Love My Mama” by The Intruders was playing on the radio. We thought of all the different songs dedicated to mothers, and when I asked what song was written for fathers, there was a brief pause and then the three of us said simultaneously, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” chuckling at our answer. But in all seriousness, there is less of an effort to give Father’s Day the same attention as Mother’s Day. Perhaps it is the difference in the roles mothers and fathers play in the family, or maybe the absence of fathers in many households. I am not here to speculate on the state of fatherhood. I just want to spend a few moments honoring my father.

I do not take for granted the fact that my parents were in an almost 50-year marriage and that I was a Daddy’s girl to the bone! Edward Campbell was born in Harlem Hospital in NYC on December 13, 1933, but shortly afterward moved with his parents to their home in Richmond, Virginia, where he stayed until he graduated from high school and went into the US Air Force. He and my mother met when my maternal grandfather pastored the church Daddy and his family attended in Richmond. They ended up in New York City after Daddy was discharged from the service and when my mother came up North to attend nursing school. Here our family’s New York roots were planted.

My father worked for the US Postal Service for over 40 years. He was a faithful and active member of the church, serving at various times as a Steward, Trustee and Church Treasurer. He had a beautiful baritone voice, and could croon with the likes of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Billy Eckstine. But most of all, my Daddy was my superhero, the smartest man I knew, my friend, and the first man who ever loved me. His death in 2006 was a blow I only recovered from because of God’s divine comfort and protection for the baby I was carrying in my womb – the baby who would have been his first grandchild, my son Izzy. Growing up, I felt sorry for Daddy because he had two daughters and no sons, so I was always hanging out with him, learning from him. Daddy taught me how to hang wall paneling – the summer he paneled the house I learned what a level, mitre box, studs, and 2x4s were. Daddy answered questions like a Google query – a quick answer at first, but with a lengthy background story to follow. A simple question often turned into a 1-hour Heathcliff Huxtable-type monologue!

Daddy taught me how to cook, although when he was throwing down in the kitchen, there was no time for idle chatter. You just sat and watched. During the holidays, he made smothered rabbit for Christmas breakfast, and his famous fruitcake and eggnog, both of which had enough kick to give you a contact high before anything made it past your lips! He was a master bowler and in a painful 3-hour lesson, he taught me how to bowl. To this day, I remember the stance, the approach, the follow-through, the poetry he exhibited on the lane.  He took me driving and taught me one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned. The first day we went driving around the mall parking lot and I thought I was good – doing a slow 25 mph. He asked me what my hurry was. I couldn’t understand why he was being so hard on me. But he said, “Just give the car some gas, then take your foot off the pedal and coast. Take control of the car and steer WITHOUT the extra speed…you drive the CAR, don’t let it drive YOU.” I have applied that lesson in my life and am thankful to have had such a great father to teach me and to share.

I last saw my father during the Christmas holiday in 2005. The day before I was to leave Florida for home, he asked me to drive him to the hospital and then his doctors’ offices to deliver cookies to the staff. That’s the kind of guy Daddy was…he had a quiet way of doing for others. Well what should have been a 30-minute errand turned into an all-day adventure! He had me driving all over the state of Florida…to the Cadillac dealership for an oil change, to the grocery store for some pig feet he planned to cook for New Year’s, then to a new meat market some 1 ½ hours away! But during our excursion, we had such a wonderful conversation. In his later years, my father and I became like friends and realized that we shared so many things in common. I would often bring up something he had taught me years before, and he was amazed that I had remembered and absorbed his lessons. But what I remembered most about that day was the moment he said, out of nowhere, “You know, you have become a beautiful woman and I’m very proud of you.” All Daddy’s girls seek their father’s approval, and although I had felt his approval throughout the years, there was something special about what he said. It was then that I realized he had purposely stretched out our day to spend some extra time with me. Unfortunately the day tired him so that he was unable to drive with my mother and me to the airport the next day, and the last visual I have is of him sitting tiredly out in the living room, waiting to say goodbye.  I did not know that this would be my last time seeing him and on March 24, 2006, he passed away. I did not get to say goodbye to him…

So on this Father’s Day, I salute the life and memory of my father.  And let me say to all the fathers out there – HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!! You are loved and appreciated!

The Art of Respect

Be Altitude: Respect Yourself

Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love to hear friends quote wise sayings drilled into them by their parents and grandparents, including those I learned myself. My personal favorites are:

“If you really wanted to do it, you’d find a way to do it.”  (my mother)

“If it don’t come out in the wash, it’ll come out in the rinse.” (my Grandma Sadie)

“I pity the frog that don’t praise his own pond.” (my father-in-law)

My father was not one for uttering too many sayings, but he taught us some very concrete lessons that I am passing on to my children. One of the lessons he taught was actually a phrase I heard one of my uncles often say, “Every man’s name has a handle,” meaning people should be addressed by their proper title, whether professional or personal. My boss’ boss is the President of our hospital, as well as a physician. I have worked for him almost 20 years and we have a good professional relationship. Any time he sends me an email, he signs off with just his first name. But because of what I was taught, I still call him “Doctor.” Another physician I work closely with, who is around my age, has threatened me bodily harm if I don’t stop calling him “Doctor.” Needless to say my desire to respect his wishes overshadowed my childhood teaching, and it took me a long time to call him by his first name!

Older neighbors and other adults were never called by their first name, and even as an adult, I still call them “Mr. James” and “Miss Marie.” I remember the first time I was addressed as “Miss Calandra.” Coincidentally, it was the young man who shoveled snow in the neighborhood – his grandparents were our neighbors when I was a child. I didn’t feel old…I felt respected. And I was glad to see that the lesson his grandparents taught his father was passed on to him. We couldn’t even call older cousins by their first name. It was “Cousin Joan” and “Cousin Junior.” I learned from my husband’s grandmother that like in many Southern families, her younger siblings called her “Sister” because the smaller ones were much younger and were not to call their older sibling by her first name. It was a lesson in respect.

So of course, my children have already begun to learn the art of respect, by understanding that what we call people has much to do with how we treat people. It’s a simple lesson, but one I believe that will take them far.

A Christmas Reflection

20121216-220615.jpgThis thought began as a Facebook status update, but soon proved too lengthy and I thought it would be better served as a quick blog post.

There is nothing more peaceful than sitting in silence by the lights of the Christmas tree. I have treasured these moments annually since I was a little girl. I would sit on the floor beside our family’s larger-than-life, live Christmas tree, soak in the fragrant needles and watch the twinkling colored lights.

As I sit here now and reflect, I can hear my Daddy’s smooth baritone voice give Nat King Cole a run for his money, singing, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack frost nipping at your nose…” And deeper still, thinking about the meaning of Advent…the expectation of the birth of Jesus, THE reason for the season.

In this time of holiday busy-ness and stress, take a few moments in reflective solitude and remember that it’s Christmas…