I’ve been listening to and loving stories for most of my life. As the next to the youngest in a family of six children, there were always stories: about the years before I was born, and after I was born, and the grandparents, and their parents, and about how my mother met my father, and their early years. My father in addition to his law enforcement career was a writer, and my mother was a walking verbal history of our lives; many stories I have repeated to the next generation.
When I was 15 we moved from my birth state to Oregon. The singular thing I remember of the first three houses my family moved into was the proximity of the graveyard…not one of those fancy, well groomed places…more like a scene out of The Blair Witch Project, with overgrown dying vines, decrepit tombstones and dilapidated crypts. But for me, that was the charm of it! There was rarely a funeral happening there, and the most frequent visitors were the birds. I never felt like I was bothering anyone as I walked up the hill to sit on top of an ancient tomb, gazing out at the valley, and pondering life. (You, my reader, are wondering about my fascination with things dead, but in fact I considered more about life in that place.)
One of my imaginings was what happened to the lives whose vestiges were left there, in the place inhabited by the spirits of stories past…now names and sayings imprinted in granite that I could only conceptualize. I am sure I was not the only one who could hear the story behind the line of smallish stones, with a larger stone bearing the family name, and the few years or only months etched into eternity of the brief lives that ended, and I would see in my mind’s eye the strong woman whose children succumbed to some dreadful disease, all within weeks of each other, as they settled in the wilds of Oregon; Or the tombs, side by side, of a couple whose life together spanned nearly three quarters of a century; Or the man who was lost at sea; Or the captain who fought in the war. Oh, so many stories of other’s lives…and I wonder now, as my story has unfolded and many years have passed, will my story end there, too?
My mother’s gravestone is in that graveyard, with a few of my father’s ashes that joined her casket over a decade ago. I knew, as we lowered mom’s pine box into the earth, that many stories died with her, now buried in an old forgotten graveyard. This doesn’t seem morbid to me, it is the completed circle of their story together, that only they fully knew. My mother used to say she was “the last rose of summer”, the end of her own generation in her birth family and her husband’s family.
But I like to think I am the keeper of some of their stories. I think of the tribal village on another continent, and the person who is designated “the story keeper”. Sometimes I take care of the last person in a family lineage, and I am sad that the stories will no longer be kept, or told. It reminds me to listen more carefully.
And in a way, I realize this is why I write. The stories should be shared.