When you don't see someone that often, you both tend to forget what you've told each other. My dad has a stockpile of sayings, speeches, and stories he tells. When we get together every couple of years, I hear my fair share again and again.
He starts by saying, "You know, when I was working as a salesman I was told to make 16 calls a day...."
"And you made 18, beating the previous record, which was 14. It turned out they didn't really expect you to achieve 16 - it was a stretch target," I sometimes finish for him.
"You've heard that one before?" he asks, feigning innocence.
"Yes," I answer.
"Only once? You mean I haven't told it yet today? Then it's still good." he quips. "Sometimes I tell the same story three or four times a visit. My stories get richer with retelling."
He's right. Or maybe it's a sign of my changing perspective and maturity that now I listen. The stories are old and shopworn, yet timeless, and as my life changes, I finally appreciate the relevance and the moral of each one.
"I wonder if I'd be good at sales," I muse.
In any event, I'm always entertained as my dad assumes the facial expressions, gestures, and dialogue of the characters involved. It's quite a performance.
I also have to admit my dad is a store of historical knowledge and business acumen. To add gravity and support to a lecture or lesson, he might invoke the past and the weight of ancestors. Or he'll take the opposite tack and describe how he flouted convention and the goals that his father laid out for him.
He abandoned his father's idea of job security, the town butcher shop, for Harvard Business School. I'm not quite sure of the lesson here for me, since this story implies that my path lies in defying my parents' vision.
Still I enjoy hearing about his youth, even as he fakes irrelevance and jokes, saying, "We didn't need all-day kindergarten; there were only three presidents to memorize."
I don't know if it's because I'm a woman, but I never tire of hearing about my parents' courtship, the near-miss of their blind date, how my dad won a first kiss on the Ferris wheel, and about the big Italian family dinners my dad attended on Sundays as my mother's guest.
The visions that form in my mind through his storytelling are much more vibrant than the guided tours through his hometown he would conduct while my sister and I yawned in the back of the car.
Now my children want to hear about my childhood. My dad's stories about my youth are stored in their memories and have become part of their personal histories.
They probably find the idea that I was a child once totally unbelievable. Or that I could be so silly. Was Mom really that anxious 5-year-old girl who was once so shaken by an excited puppy that she dropped the last piece of chocolate cake, only to watch it land neatly in the dog's mouth? Apparently so.
I've finally realized that it is now my turn to become the family storyteller.
One hot summer afternoon I took my daughters to the community pool. My 6-year-old was impatient; she ran ahead and jumped in the water. I rushed to catch up with her. I thought about lecturing her on the dangers that a pool poses and scolding her for running ahead. Instead, I chose my dad's approach.
"Did I ever tell you about the time I was at the town pool with my dad, when I slipped while running and fell in...." I began.
I don't know if I got the details right, but I had their attention. I figure that after a few hundred more renditions, my daughters will recite the tale themselves and begin to get the message.