Becoming a Storyteller

I recorded this today in my journal (italics):

My favorite thing today (after stopping for donuts at City Donuts) was Clark asking question after question about my life and my grandparents and great grandparents and on. “Tell me a story about. . . .” I told him stories in the car as we drove here and there. The black widow story, the burning the trees story, the day Paul freed my Monarch after it came out of the chrysalis, my Grandpa’s black widow bites, Grandma’s long white hair (Elsa is a Frozen princess). I told him about Paul trying to catch burglars by sitting in the dark house and about the day burglars really did break in and steal our TV. He wanted to know how everyone in my family died, going back generations. When I told him that my grandpa probably had a heart attack on the day he died, he asked “did he go into cardiac arrest?” I immediately thought of his doctor father and asked if his dad taught him that.  He said, “no, I learned it on a show about constrictor snakes.  They squeeze their prey until their hearts stop and they go into cardiac arrest.”  Snakes are his favorite topic right now. 

Of course he asked me to tell him stories about snakes, so I told him about the time I was walking down a road in the bush of Nigeria, and I heard the villagers around me shouting and running towards the road, waving their arms and stick branches.  I wondered what was happening, then saw that they were chasing a huge, maybe 12 foot long snake up to the road where I was walking.  The snake had gotten into the villagers chicken coops and eaten all the eggs and they villagers were Mad.  Just as I walked by, the long snake crossed the road a few feet from where I was walking, spanning the whole width of the road. At that moment, a car sped by on the road, and ran right over the snake, killing it. As I watched it writhing in death, I looked down at my clothes.  They were splattered with egg yolks. Clark Loved my snake story.  He started asking for more stories and the others joined in.

John told the story of Di playing with matches and setting the house on fire (she threw the match in a trash can that lit on fire, then hid the trash can in a closet that caught on fire).

It was interesting that Clark specifically asked for stories of times we got into trouble. Just like Don Davis said. Those are the most interesting. Too bad I didn’t get into trouble very often. I need to wrack my brain for more stories to tell him. He loves to hear them, the others too. Heidi later told me that he repeated all of my stories to her (she wasn’t in our car). She said he remembered so many little details. Now every time we get into the car, the kids want me to tell them stories.

I told them my black widow story found here:

And I told him about how we went gigging bull frogs in the night with headlamps and how we tried to catch robbers in the dark when we were kids.  I explained what it was like growing up on a farm and what jobs we did.  The kids were fascinated Clark said, “tell me about the times you got into trouble.”  It was like a page out of Donald Davis’s storytelling workshop!

The kids were enthralled with each story, no matter how long or short or dramatic.  They wanted more and more.  I was grateful for the stories I had in my head that I’d recorded somewhere.  They were easier to remember.  But in time, I ran out of stories.  Then I had a brilliant idea.  I told the kids if they’d give me a topic, I’d tell them a story about that topic.

So they started giving me random topics.  It was like having a prompt for a free-write. Here are some of the topics Clark and Josie gave me:

Snakes (they loved my Nigeria snake stories–the egg eater and the vultures) and a story about a boy in my ward who was their age when he was bit by a rattlesnake that stunted his hand.
Giraffe–told them about the crooked necked giraffe at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Later looked her up and learned she died in 2008 and her neck skeleton is now on display there
Raccoons–told about how our neighbors at Sundance had their watermelon eaten off their porch
Butterflies–told about the bug collections in Grandma’s upstairs closet and how I collected bugs, had killing jars, mounted them, etc. Adam catching his first Monarch.
Rabbits–Shep chasing jack rabbits, dead rabbits on the yard.
Sharks and Wolverines (Clark’s favorite animals). Told him I’ve had no experience with them yet.
Bugs I don’t like: mosquitoes and cockroaches
Bug collection boxes at Grandma’s house
Birds–told about Paul hunting starlings with his BB gun
Vultures, poop on the roof in Eket
Frogs–hunting for bullfrogs with Bro. Danner, gigging, cleaning, eating them
Snails– kids with bush lanterns in Eket hunting for snails to eat
Sad things that happened: Lucille Lundquist playing with matches, she died age 2 1/2 , her brother Carl (age 18)had sun stroke after working on a roof
How people died –told him about every ancestor I could think of

Now everytime they ask for a story, when I can’t think of one, I’ll ask them for a topic.  I’m trying to write down what comes out, so I can remember to record those stories, especially the ones that seem especially interesting to them.  They like hearing some of them over and over.  I hope I will become a better and better storyteller!  Stories hold families together.

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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