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Telling Your Story

June 13, 2011

On Saturday we held my aunt’s funeral. She lived to be 96, which is an amazing feat in itself. She didn’t drink, smoke, or go to doctors. Sadly for her, she had outlived her husband and her only child, who is shown in this picture. Her nieces and nephews were all she had.

But the way she lived was even more inspiring. The thing I will always remember about her was her ability to make us laugh with her endless funny stories about our family. And in recent years it didn’t matter to her, or to us, that she always repeated all of the best ones. The point of it all was just the telling of them and the joy of being together laughing. She didn’t say “stop me if you’ve heard this.” It didn’t matter. And we didn’t ever stop her. We always pretended we were hearing them for the first time.

She wanted to make sure we didn’t forget how life was for a preacher’s family during the Great Depression, or the adventures our Dad got into when he was little, or the cute and funny things we said when we were small. She wanted us all to know how much we were loved. Now I’m very glad we heard the stories over and over again, so that we never forget them and will pass them down.

After the service a big group of us went to her favorite local restaurant for lunch. We’ve been both celebrating and saying our goodbyes at that same diner for sixty years. A lot of stories were passed around with the plates of fried chicken, barbecue, blackeyed peas, and fried okra. My aunt had been on a first name basis with the restaurant owners. I definitely felt her presence Saturday. I think we all did.

Story telling, especially around good food and a pitcher of sweet tea, is a great Southern tradition. It’s the glue that holds families close. Living back here in the heart of the Deep South has put me smack in the middle of that tradition once again. I already knew — before leaving here for so many years and then coming back to live — that there are some things you don’t talk about in the South over a family meal of fried chicken or a Thanksgiving turkey, among them being politics and religion. It’s just not done. And you wouldn’t dare shock the elders’ sensibilities by mentioning who is living with whom out of wedlock, or that you may secretly prefer wine to sweet tea for dinner. I’ve had to slowly acclimate my husband to these unspoken rules, because he’s “not from around here.”

As long as you know the unspoken rules, the stories are what make us a family.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2011 11:06 am

    What a great post — and being a true southern girl – I understand exactly what you have said – and haven’t said. Cheers to your aunt! It sounds like she lived a lovely life! I – too – left for a while, but I’m happy to be back. 🙂

    • June 13, 2011 12:20 pm

      Judy, you have to be a true southern girl to know what’s not being said, wouldn’t you agree? 🙂 Glad you enjoyed hearing about our stories. Welcome back. I’ve commented on your blog just now. Loving what you are doing right now!

  2. June 13, 2011 1:58 pm

    Martha you brought back many deep memories for me with this wonderful tribute to your Aunt. You know I was raised in the deep south and actually not far from where you were raised. My siblings and I still love sharing stories from our childhood over a family meal. My Mom does like your Aunt and tells the stories over and over again and I’m sure she wants us to remember them just as she has all these years. Many blessing to you and your family as you cherish the memories of your wonderful Aunt. 🙂

    • June 14, 2011 8:53 am

      Itaya, I can so identify! I do believe that repetition is a part of the whole idea, as you say.

  3. nancy permalink
    June 13, 2011 2:26 pm

    Martha, thank you for sharing the story of your aunt. what better tribute to a rich life than family sharing stories…

    • June 14, 2011 8:50 am

      Nancy, her life spanned an amazing succession of events and changes. I’m so glad my sister, who always lived nearby, got some recordings and documented the stories.

  4. Sandra permalink
    June 13, 2011 7:04 pm

    Thinking of you with love. Your aunt sounds a wonderful person, doubtless her nieces and nephews were a comfort to her, you sound such a loving and supportive family.

    • June 14, 2011 8:48 am

      Thank you, Sandra. Our family has always been very close, even in spite of our busy lives. We always love to get together.

  5. pat q permalink
    June 13, 2011 11:54 pm

    How wonderful your aunt was able to share the stories and memories of your family. Fond reminiscing of traditions speaks of important family values.
    Even though some stories were told many times by your beloved aunt, it is in the repeating we remember every detail and are able to share the tales with others. You will be able to pass down remembrances of past family events both funny and touching.
    Thank you for sharing her life with us.

    • June 14, 2011 8:46 am

      So true, Pat! It’s almost as if we never outgrow our need for familiar stories, especially when told by a beloved elder.

  6. June 14, 2011 12:05 am

    Okay not being southern I have no idea what wasn’t being said but loved the story just the same. I miss that story telling time with family as I get very little of it anymore. Others just don’t seem to be able to lovingly make fun of a person like a family member who says “remember that time you just about drove the tractor through the chicken shed?” or “remember when that city cousin came to visit and showed us how to do a proper swan dive off the sawdust pile and nearly broke his neck?”

    I would have been one of those enjoying your aunts stories with as much enthusiasm as you put into tell us about her. Thank you Martha.

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