I never thought of story telling as an art. It was just something my family did when we sat around the table drinking coffee and eating the sandwiches my grandmother had made. My grandmother’s kitchen table was the command center of our family. Nana, as we called her, conducted her business here much like Michael Corleone did at his desk. If you needed a loan, a shoulder to cry on, a bit of advice or a hot meal, my grandmother’s kitchen was the place to come. Whether you were family, neighbor or friend, Nana was waiting to dish out what you needed.
On Saturday afternoons nearly every member of my extended family gathered for coffee, sandwiches and Utz potato chips we had bought that morning at the market. All of my favorite aunts, Betty, Evelyn, and both little and big Madeleines were always there, as well as my uncles Charles, Roy and Abe. It wasn’t long after the food was cleared before my grandfather and Uncle Roy broke out their guitars to play. In between verses of Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey, they would share stories of their days on radio. I enjoyed hearing them tell of my
Uncle Al who had been a band leader and night club owner in Washington D. C. in the 1940’s. He had passed away long before I was born. The three of them along with my grandfather’s brother Joe, had played on a radio program on Sunday nights. I wished I could have heard them, but their stories made me feel as if I were there.
The best story teller was my Aunt Evelyn. I attribute my love of ghost stories and all things haunted to her. She was a slender woman with the blondest hair I have ever seen and the more scary her story became the pinker her skin appeared. She would tell of the ghostly pirates who haunted her house still searching for treasure the had buried in the basement. There was also a woman who seemed to follow my uncle around in their kitchen. My aunt believed this woman to be the long deceased owner of her home. Aunt Evelyn told me the woman had rented rooms to the sailors whose ships had docked in Locust Point. Sometimes the story changed and the sailors became the pirates, but whichever version was told, she believed every word and I did, too. That’s what made her stories so interesting and memorable, she believed them, she was a part of them. The other aunts told stories, repeating what had happened or what they had been told, but never with her passion. Passion is what makes a story compelling.
Today, sitting at my own kitchen table listening to the rain pound against the window, I am drinking my coffee from the same cup I did as a child and reading one of my favorite ghost stories. From the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of a very blonde woman who has become the star of her story and mine.
Readers: Did your family tell stories?