Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On the Power of Stories

            Earlier this week, Littlest and I pulled out his copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, as we do every day, to read a poem. I realized as we turned the page that this day’s poem was a favorite – one that filled me with emotion, and sent memories and images through my mind as I read.

Farewell to the Farm
The coach is at the door at last;
The eager children, mounting fast
And kissing hands, in chorus sing:
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything! 

To house and garden, field and lawn,
The meadow-gates we swang upon,
To pump and stable, tree and swing,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

And fare you well for evermore,
O ladder at the hayloft door,
O hayloft, where the cobwebs cling,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

Crack goes the whip, and off we go;
The trees and houses smaller grow;
Last, round the woody turn we swing:
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

            The farm, the gates, the stable and hayloft – I could see them all, and I remembered my tears the first time I read this poem, at the thought of leaving the beloved farm. The thing is, I have never lived on a farm, and the memories and images I had in my mind all came from the begged-for stories my dad told of his own childhood on a farm.

I knew about Bossy, the cow my dad and his brothers sometimes rode, and about Scrappy, the dog who had several unfortunate run-ins with porcupines. I knew about the apple tree and the hayloft and the barn cats, and hours spent outside swimming in the creek and walking down the lane to the one-room schoolhouse. I knew about the fresh butter, and jam made from berries picked by my father and his siblings, and I knew about the love on that farm. Later, I exchanged many letters with my grandmother, and she shared even more stories about life on the farm, each one giving vivid details that added to my own memories of a place I’d never seen.

I finally had the chance to see it, as a young adult, when my parents and I were graciously given a tour by the farm’s current owners. I wrote excitedly to my grandmother, and told her how I wished she could have been with us.

Her response surprised me.

Grandmother's Letter
“Glad you had a chance to go out to our old brick house. But I would not like that at all,” she wrote, and she began to detail her memories, starting with the boys filling her woodbox so she could make breakfast, and continuing, “Children coming downstairs in the morning, standing over the furnace register dressing and getting ready to run up the road for another day at school. Making strawberry jam on my new 'Monarch' stove, running out just a minute to see where the smallest child was. Coming back in the kitchen, jam had boiled out of the pot, down my new stove and halfway across the kitchen floor.”

            She went on, to tell me of the dreadfully dirty and messy attic, and how she’d torn down the walls and thrown the pieces out the windows, scrubbed the floors with a paint scraper and pails of soapy water until she found “beautiful yellow boards,” and how snug and cozy that room was in the winter. She described the food she made each night, and told of washing the dishes with her eldest daughter, as she taught her songs, prayers and poems.

            “What beautiful memories I have of that dear old brick house,” she finished. “No. I do not want to go in the house and see the changes that have been made. To me, let it be as it was, long ago.”

            And so when I read that poem now,  I see a well-loved farm peopled with my family - my father as a boy, my dear late grandmother and my aunts and uncles. Saying goodbye to that farm is so hard, even when those stories were not my own. That is the power of story.

Our Stories

            Today, the boys and I ate lunch reclining on a blanket on the kitchen floor, with Middle Eastern foods the likes of which shepherds might have eaten in the days of Abraham. They asked me to read to them, and ran to get Carry On Mr. Bowditch, our current, much loved read-aloud.

“They might have told stories at lunch in those days,” one son remarked, as he reached for some grapes.

            “Jesus always told stories,” Littlest observed. And I realized he was right; Jesus surely knew the power of stories, and the impact He would have by teaching not through lecture, but by engaging his audience - for thousands of years now - through story.

We have the privilege of passing on Jesus' wonderful story. We have also been given our own stories, and our family’s stories, to share. Let us remember to pass them on, and give our children a richer inheritance, a connection to things they have not seen, and the desire to share stories of their own someday. Who knows…perhaps one day a man will tell his child about a lunch shared on a blanket, while he and his brothers listened to a story.

Trusting in Him,

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