In my own shoes: A serving of history at the kitchen table

In my own shoes: A serving of history at the kitchen table

The Westerly Sun

I have always been a lover of stories. I still am.

Although there are many great stories in the annals of literature, I prefer stories told live to me by the very people who lived them. That way I get the benefit not just of the story itself, but of the intonation, body language, and facial expressions of the storyteller.

I will sit with rapt attention when people talk about their summer vacation, their grandchildren, or even a family incident. When it comes to comedy, although I have spent a night or two in comedy clubs, I find no personal value nor entertainment in standup; for me it is the storytellers who have always captured me and earn my loyalty.

All those comedians who started out on the old Ed Sullivan Show: Sam Levinson, Alan King, a very young Bill Cosby, Danny Thomas, Totie Fields, Shelley Berman, Stiller and Meara… they were the ones I never wanted to miss because they painted a picture, set the stage, allowed me to “see” characters, and completely held my attention. Their talent was not found in the hit and miss one liner, but in the art of slowly weaving and unraveling a tale that was both humorous and real. To me stories are the true essence of people; they let you get to know them right down to their stuffings.

Over the years I have listened to stories in college dorms, over wine and dinner, in front of fireplaces at snowy New England lodges, at work and at play; but my absolute favorite place to hear stories or tell them is at a kitchen table. Could be yours, mine, or cousin Shirlee’s. No doubt about it, kitchen table stories are the very best stories because they get right to the very heart and mind of the storyteller. They are word candy generously shared. They are unfailingly honest; and if they’re not all that accurate, who cares? The added spice just makes for a tasty experience all the more.

The great thing about family stories is they change, they are lovingly “tampered” with, so they evolve; and somewhere along the line, the original storyline gets “colored.” Remember the old party game, “Telephone?” A group of people stood in a line, and the first person would whisper a phrase or sentence to the person next to him. That person would then whisper it to the person next to them, and so on down the line until the final person would enunciate the sentence. It was never the same.  

And that’s often the way with those family kitchen table stories. Over some homemade wine and perhaps with a plate of soupy, cheese, and crackers in the middle of the table, the conversation flies. “When Uncle Sal came from the old country, he couldn’t speak a word of English.”

“Wrong! Sal knew English; it was Domenick who had the problem.”

“What are you two talking about? Sal never learned English till he worked at the mill and picked it up.”

“No, Domenick was the brains in the family. He taught not only himself but his sisters, Ann and Rose. And Sal never worked at the mill; he was a stone cutter.”

Can you relate? Sure, the names and circumstances may be different in your family, but the richness of the stories, even with questionable detail, make up the history of who you are and where you came from. As a writer I never, ever was interested in writing fiction. I have always been fascinated with real people because I believe whether they are simple, or have accomplished great things, there is a story in them all.

Our children today are obsessed with stories they read online (their veracity not always important). They believe everything they see and hear on the internet or in a chat room, and use sites like Ancestry.com to research their roots.

While it’s doubtful you can change this, you can augment it with the stories of your family. How grandpa and grandma met, how Uncle Sal came to America, what Uncle Lou did in the war, how talented a seamstress Aunt Edna was… and even if the details are a bit sketchy, it doesn’t matter. You’re honoring memories, teaching history, and perhaps providing a bit of your own entertainment over coffee or wine or cookies or soupy… all right there at the kitchen table.

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 16 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She has written three books: one about the towns and villages in our area, one about growing up in the ’50s, and one that recounts untold veterans’ stories from WWII to the present. She can be reached at six07co@att.net or 4015397762.

 


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