Telling Your Story
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.