Murray, KY –
For many, autumn is a season of turkeys, pumpkins, hayrides, light jackets, raking leaves, gathering with loved ones and giving thanks. Commentator and professional storyteller Robert Valentine shares another reason why autumn is special.
As we gather around fireplace, tailgate, kitchen table or campfire, we tell stories. Some are more important than others. I was reminded of that recently when Tommy Rushing left us, but left us telling so many stories of laughter and inspiration. We all like a good story, and during this season of reflection and reminiscence, we'll tell em.
Among the tales of mystery and bravery are the mundane and the commonplace. From silly tales of uncles trapped in outhouses to the nobility of hardy Pilgrims and the miracle of the Messiah born in a manger, this is surely a season of stories that can change lives.
But, to me, the most important are the stories of your own family. As people gather from different cities, or even different nations, we have a chance to hear their stories and to make them ours. We shouldn't miss the opportunity.
Let's listen, this time. How often did you long to leave the Thanksgiving table, only to be forced to sit and listen as Grandpa retold the tale of the day he came home from France (or Korea, or Japan, or Hopkinsville)? Did you wish to escape another reliving of the trip to Louisville ("and there were no four-lane highways back then, I can tell you") or of the Blizzard of '32 (or '78 or 09) and all its tangential legends of survival ("and we had to melt snow for drinking water!")?
Boring? Perhaps they may have seemed, once. Relevant? No, not to a youthful generation sure of in its own omniscience and the power of its youthful wisdom.
Essential? Absolutely. All those stories make up that thing you call your life. Grandma's stories of loneliness during the absences of war give you the courage to go on; Uncle Bill's tales of making hard decisions for the good of family gave you the wisdom you now have - and you didn't even have to make the mistakes yourself.
Homecoming reminiscences of family and friends are the stuff of our very beings, and should not be ignored. They should not be missed so that we can play a video game, go to a mall, or watch one of the current mind-improving offerings of the television. Those things are not your family; those things do not know your story.
If you doubt me, ask yourself: Is there someone whose story you would wish to hear again, but cannot? What would you give to hear once more that story of Dad's proposal to Mom, or of Great Aunt Amelia's first job as a riveter in an armored tank factory? You can't hear those voices any more, except in memory. Now, you realize that hearing the story every year at Thanksgiving was not enough, even though you thought you knew it by heart. Now, it is too late.
This year, let's listen round the fire or as people linger over dessert. Those words are precious memories whose value may be hidden from you for years. If a silence falls, don't worry if your contribution won't be as funny or as clever as the last. Just tell the story.
Someday, years from now, someone will open that gift of memory and a life will change.
Welcome home. Now, it's your turn.
Robert Valentine is a professional Speaker, Storyteller, and Senior Lecturer at Murray State University in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications. You can visit his website at RobertValentine.com.