Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Storyteller

What will the world be like when there are no more stories to tell? When the tales that are told come from Hollywood, and the windows at night are filled with the blue flickering fluorescence of the Television screens. How will we know our neighbors, or even our own families? When children ignore the memories of their elders by sticking their faces into the nearest tablet, futuristic Game Boys with touch screens and instant access to the world's entertainment, but no memories of days gone by.  No, we will not know the people who live just down the hall.  And it's a shame. The rocking chairs will become brittle from non-use.  I know when I finally get a house of my own, it shall have a front porch and a rocking chair.  In the evenings, after the hot sun has gone down, the only flickering I will see, as I sit in my rocking chair with my book, will be the bioluminescence of the Fireflies.  The book will tell me stories.

But I remember when my parents would tell me memories from their childhood. I have memories of things that happened way before I was born.  I remember my mother, on one cold Christmas break when she was a child, learning she had measles, and screaming out MEASLES!!, or my grandfather, having a nightmare, only half conscious, yelling out "I've got a gun! I'm gonna shoot!" repeatedly, and they lived in a duplex, so the other half of the house could hear him threatening violence.  I remember my dad, not having any tact at restaurants, making a big deal over getting out his pocket knife to cut his steak.  (That runs in the family... I have no bones about getting my own silverware or even a refill if I can reach the pitcher.)  I was there for none of those things.  They are all stories that my mother and grandmother told me, over and over, until they became my own memories.  But our children will not have those memories, at least, that's what I fear.

I'll be honest with my recent housecleaning.  Since the funeral, I've been going through the house and carrying boxes with me.  Trash Box / Garage Sale Box / Keep Box. The first two have vastly outweighed the third.  I cannot come right out and call my mom a hoarder, because I don't think that was quite it.  The way I look at it, she saw an object and attached an emotion, a memory, to each thing.  The garland on the Christmas Tree would be the decoration, but the memory would be the box it had come in, those that were barely hanging together (and I surreptitiously threw away several years ago).  She kept almost all the clothing she wore throughout her entire adult life, because the memories attached were the things she did while wearing those clothes.

Ah the memories... and look
 at the space it consumes.
I understand this feeling; I do the same things, to some extent.  I have 7 Commodore 64's in my closet, hoping that I would get a power supply that worked (I only have one, and it barely does), and so I could actually use one.  Which is silly... I have emulators on my PC with all the games I could ever think about playing on the C64.  But the memories of playing those games, of beating Blue Max or Zaxxon (which my dad and his neighbor would sneak out of church, go to the corner cafe, which had Zaxxon as a coin-operated video game, and play it instead of hearing God's word.), that's what I attach to the machines themselves.  I've learned, however, to look ahead at my life, or rather, to the end of it, and see where those memories go. Do I want my relatives tossing out all my junk, or selling to some stranger who may or may not have those same memories?  What stories do those objects tell? Like most idols of biblical times, they say nothing.  The stones are silent.  We can tell a way of life, a preference of color, of sound, but that's about it.  I'm not saying that we need to be like my grandmother, who felt that the more she gave/threw away, the closer she would get to heaven.  There has to be a happy medium. The message should speak out through the things you keep, not buried in the things to be thrown away.

You see, to me, the objects tell stories because the memories are silent.  There's no one rocking in that chair anymore, they are all watching Reality TV in the living room.  Should we know our parents and grandparents only by the stuff in their dresser drawers?  And nowadays, stuff is inundating us.  Every time we go to the store, the kids want a toy, or a book, or a whatever-that-thing-is-next-to-the-register.  And we take it home, and it sits on the bedroom floor for a while, forgotten, but if we go to pick it up and throw it away, a hissy-fit is sure to ensue.  You see, the child has instilled the act of getting that thing, the attention of the parent, with the thing itself.  The more stuff someone has, the more love they have received.

I knew a family in Milledgeville, where I went to college, who had to move every now and again due to lack of funds.  Usually, they had to leave their stuff behind and start all over.  The only things that were constant were the hand drawn pictures on the living room walls, the pictures.  That was about it.  And she sat in the rocking chairs in the front of her house and told stories of her life, and that of her children, endlessly, until those memories became mine because I knew them.  They were poor, but they needed little in the way of "material goods," to make them happy.  I'm sure that's not always the case.  Everyone would like a new television or a new cell phone or the latest book.  It's the perspective that I admire.  Richness in perspective.

You know my favorite character in the world of Fraggle Rock? Jim Henson voices the wise Fraggle Cantus, the Minstrel.  He is a storyteller, much like Henson himself.  Of course, with everything in Fraggle Rock, it is all done with music.  He goes about the rock singing songs and telling stories.  I wish that was what I could do.  Listen to the songs of the people here, on this Earth, and tell their stories.  Because it's those memories that live on in the minds of others.  The souvenirs will all rot away in the landfills, but the memories behind them will go on, if we tell the stories enough.  Never in this world have we had so much ability to keep the stories of our family alive, with pictures, movies, webcams, cell phones, Youtube, the Internet... and never before have we kept those voices quiet.  Why do that when we can stuff our mouths full of cinnamon and put that on Youtube? We let entertainment get in the way of memory and wisdom.  So much wisdom, and we're going to let it slip away... and look where that has got us.  Look at the world now... it's not pretty.  Gather ye junkpiles while ye may, for one bursted bubble (economically speaking,) and we're all toast.  It's a negative way of looking at things.  I know.  That's why it's so important to understand how to just get up and move, without the junk, and have all those memories stored away inside yourself.  They can all still be passed down, just without the coffee cup found at a garage sale to illustrate it.  Shrink all your belongings into one room.  How important, then, is each thing.  We have let material inflation catch up with us.  Reduce the supply, and increase the value.  And yet, each memory is priceless.  The thing represents the dollar, the memories behind it are the gold bars residing in Fort Knox.  And more.  We should hoard the gold, the memories, not the items that represent them. When we pass those on to our children, they shall be wealthy indeed, and far better off for it.

1 comment:

  1. I love story telling. Stories are timeless . . . it's one of quite a few shots at immortality.

    Growing up, I would read a lot of weather stories and sports stories and was amazed by the greatness that lied within each and every one of the athletes and the extremities that the weather tends to possess. It's amazing what someone can do when they are committed to the sport that they play. Sometimes, feats are accomplished in the process of bringing forth the greatness that lies within these athletes. I really enjoyed reading the story of Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game, Willie Mays' famous over-the-head catch and some of the victories that Jack Nicklaus earned over his years as an active golfer, just to name a few. And then, from the weather world, I would read and hear stories about extreme weather that occurred over the years, especially in NC where I live. For example (and this is timely considering that Arthur is coming), back in the '50's, NC had a hurricane named Hazel. It raced across the East Coast (at one point traveling at a rate of 55mph), but in the time it was over NC, it caused a great deal of destruction, packing winds well over major hurricane force, causing catastrophic damage, and accumulating fatalities. No hurricane we ever had since was as catastrophic as Hazel (although the hurricanes we had in the '80's and '90's came really close). NC also has a reputation for tornadoes. One of the worst tornadoes we ever had was in November of 1988. We had a tornado that hit north of Raleigh, and demolished a K-Mart (most of my relatives who were at NC at the time remember that particular severe weather event). It ended up killing four people and injuring others along with causing extensive damage. We also had tornado outbreaks in the past, like in April of 2011, and in March of 1984, just to name two.

    I will admit, I have a mild case of hoarding. I have old laptops, a black-and-white TV, portable TV's, old camcorders, VCR tapes of old shows, and other stuff that we have had around for many years. I wished my Dad kept our old Macintosh computers. I would have been happy to show them to you via pictures. My brother had a really good Mac computer when I was in middle school and I would play games on there all the time. My brother would always play on my then new PC computer, and I would play some of the old Mac games I grew up playing. I do have two Mac laptops, one which used to be my Mom's, which was clam shell shaped (and probably one of the most attractive looking laptops I've ever seen in my life), and one which I used until the CPU memory was fried and my laptop couldn't even boot the hard drive (it was a white Mac and it was really fun to use, especially since I could connect to the Internet with the Airport wireless card). I'd love to at least try out the laptop/PDF hybrid that Apple made called the Newton eMate 300. It was a few years ahead of its time, but not even a year after they made it, they discontinued it.

    But, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, as always. Wisdom is a wonderful thing, and everybody should strive not just to have knowledge, but to have wisdom. Believe me, there are a lot of smart people who are not wise. There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom and it's sad that people don't understand the difference.

    I hope you had a good weekend. Have a good week.