"Tell me about when you were a little girl."
What mother hasn't heard that bedtime plea. Bedtime stories for our two sons began when they were very young. They never seemed to tire of hearing about the raccoon who stole my backpack while I was sleeping on a camping trip. But my husband and I grew tired of it and tried to interest them in other stories.
Finally we started following the raccoon story with a new one each night until the stories grew to cover other adventures Mommy and Daddy had when they were little. Some nights we let the boys take turns being the storyteller.
During these story times, family history is passed along and becomes more real as details are added each night. Sometimes I think they know everything that ever happened in our lives, then a family episode or a question triggers another memory.
For instance, a disagreement over eating vegetables reminded me of a childhood experience, and I told the boys about it at supper: My mother had said I couldn't have anything else to eat until I finished my green beans. I refused and went to bed very sad. I woke up still sad but also very hungry and decided I'd better eat those cold beans. But I couldn't find them. Daddy had thrown them out to the hens, so my mother had to let me have breakfast even though I didn't eat my beans.
By the time I finished my story, the boys were laughing to think that their special grandma could be so "mean" and decided they'd better get eating.
Their father's stories expanded to include tales his dad told him, about growing up in the early 1900s in the same farmhouse we live in today. The children love to hear about their grandfather waking up with drifted snow on his blankets or rising before the sun to hitch up the wagon to deliver potatoes into town. It was an all-day trip. "I sure was glad to see the light of the kerosene lamp in the window when I rounded the corner," Grandpa had said. These stories introduced our youngest son to Grandpa and kept his memory alive for our older son who had the privilege of knowing him briefly.
Neither of the boys knew Nana, my husband's mother, but through bedtime stories they have become acquainted with a loving, gracious woman who sang while she did housework and always kept beautiful flower gardens.
Some nights, after milking our two cows, preparing dinner, washing dishes, and bedding down all the animals, I would like to be tucked in myself. On those nights I am tempted to skip story time, but I realize that what we have together as a family is too precious to postpone, even for one night. The ancient ritual of passing along family history to the next generation through oral tradition is alive and well in our little brick farmhouse. I like to think of our sons someday sitting on their children's beds and telling stories about their childhood and their ancestors, just as we're doing as a family today.
Jeanne A. Eastman is the mother of two sons in Center Conway, N.H.
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