Sunday, March 20, 2016

Falling In Love With Stories

Do you remember when you first fell in love with stories?

When I was a young boy—before I fell in love with reading, before I sat in front of the TV for hours watching movies—I loved sitting in the kitchen on Sunday mornings listening to my grandfather tell stories about his life growing up in a tiny village on the outskirts of Warsaw.

It wasn’t just his stories that drew me into the tales. It was the sound of his voice, the smell of his clothes (he was a baker), and the way his hands held his cup of coffee or drew invisible landscapes in the air. How I loved him, and it was this love, I suspect, that helped shape my love of stories.

In his presence, the suburbs of northern New Jersey where I grew up seemed to fade away. All I heard in the kitchen on those Sunday mornings was the sound of his voice. I’d enter another world, a world that was so different from the everyday world that I inhabited.

He told stories about skating on frozen rivers until the leather on the soles of his shoes was worn away and about stealing cucumbers from the priest’s garden and getting a “clop” from the priest who caught him.

He told me how he used to run through the village delivering rolls that his father baked in their bakery, and how, on the way home, he teased the village girls by throwing brambles into the their hair.

And when he was older, he told me, he ran away from the village and hid on a train to Berlin without a ticket and began his journey to America.

Pacing, tone, plot were all wrapped in the gentle tone of his voice, and it was his voice that gave me a sense of what stories sounded like, and how a storyteller could shape and re-shape them, trying this, then that, as if each story was a recipe that could be changed again and again.

Every Sunday morning in our kitchen my grandfather told me the same stories with only the slightest variations. I’m convinced that listening to him tell these stories so many times was what helped me understand the structure of stories. In time, I learned to anticipate what would happen next and began to see how a story could flow from beginning to middle and then on to an end, and how my expectations changed depending on the way the story was revealed.

My grandfather was a baker. He never taught me how to bake. He never shared any of his recipes. But he shared his stories.

They’ve proven as rich and as sustaining over the years as the apple pies, apple and fruit strudels, cupcakes, and chocolate layer cakes that I remember him making for us and which I can still taste in my imagination.

Remembering those Sunday mornings when I sat with him and listened to his stories helps remind me of what I love about stories.

And on days when writing is hard, when words and stories won’t come, it’s the echo of my grandfather’s voice that draws me back to stories and what I love about them so I can find the emotional strength to keep writing.

Do you remember when you first fell in love with stories? Do you recall the person who first introduced you to stories?

Let us know if you get a chance and perhaps your story about falling in love with stories can inspire others to keep writing.


Tricia C. said...

I almost never post comments in social media but this memory of your grandfather is too lovely not to acknowledge. I hope he and his stories have found their way into your fiction --I can't imagine they haven't or won't at some point. You're making me think fondly of my own grandfather's stories and my father's. Thought if I had to pinpoint I'd say that being read to, by both my mother and my father, was the origin of my twin love affairs with story and language. I have the most vivid memories of the worn umber binding of the Childcraft story and poetry volumes. Thank you for this moment to breathe and remember.

Bruce Black said...

Tricia, many thanks for your generous response, especially for sharing the vivid memories of your parents reading to you from the volumes of stories and poems with the "worn umber binding." It's like magic, isn't it, where memories can take us?