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Storytelling…across Generations

Griot

It occurred to me the other day that storytelling in my family didn’t begin with my mother. I come from a long line of strong women, story tellers all. Since the beginning of time griots  have passed down our history in oral form from generation to generation. Griot:   (/ˈɡriːoʊ/; French.  Mandinka.  A West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet, or musician.) My grandmother and mother were no different.

Yes, I was told fairytales, as a very young child, but somewhere along the way my mother switched over to true stories about when she was a child (early 1900’s) living in a logging town in western Washington.  The family tales of thirteen kids, roaming the woods, swimming in the rivers and tipping over outhouses. The stories never ended and, like any child, I requested my favorites to be told over and over. My mother considered the telling of

Since the beginning of time

tales very natural.  She and her siblings had grown up listening to their mother telling stories about how she and her new husband (my grandfather) fled France, migrated to America, and then trekked across the country to settle in the Northwest. They boarded a ‘flatboat’ in St. Louis, Missouri and traveled on great rivers until they reached Great Falls, Montana.  They finally debarked and joined wagon trains going further west. My mother told me the story of my auntie (her sister) who, at the age of seventeen, ran away from home and worked her way aboard a freighter to Anchorage, Alaska. She homesteaded in the Tanana Valley for over twenty years. (Song of the Yukon)

Mother at a friend’s cabin

Since I was born long after my brother and sister, I do not know if my mother had the time to spend on telling them stories. She was a single mom who worked long hours building a bar and grill business. She frequently ‘farmed out’ my siblings for long periods of time. It wasn’t for financial reasons and so was always unclear why . (Wild Violets) By the time I discovered this appalling fact, my mother was gone and there was no one left to ask. And those were stories she certainly never told. 

My mother and I

She was very vain and perhaps didn’t want the men in her life to know she had two children. Anyway that’s what my sister thought. She was eleven when my mother began sending them away.

And so here I am, the next generation of storytellers….Would my mother be surprised?
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Fiction mimics real life…doesn’t it?

I have realized over the years that I am attracted to writing stories based on real life experiences, whether they are mine or someone else’s.

WhileWOW.BanW._wow (2) visiting a convicted murderer (Cook County Justice) at a state prison for men I observed women waiting with me to see their men. Some of them had been coming for years.  What was that like I asked myself.  How do they survive on the outside?  What are the stories that brought them to this place?  Were they married to monsters, gang members, killers?  Or just regular guys who had made some very stupid choices?  (Women Outside the Walls)

The most rewarding effort has been writing about what I know of life.  Confronting the challenges that life throws at all of us and then  goJohn.Songof YUkon 001 on to deal with it with some sort of grace under fire.  That’s how “The Ash Can” was born.  An experience very close to me where a person threw away everything  in a blink of an eye.  Deciding to take irrevocable actions and leaving heart-break and tragedy in their path.

 

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