The Storyteller’s Story for Sue
Did she choose to be a storyteller
or did storytelling choose her?
I’m the only one who wonders this still;
for all the others, it’s just who she was,
the family storyteller. As a young girl
helping her mother with dishes and food,
she’d serve a dessert of family tales
holding them round the kitchen table
as she hooked them by looking deep in their eyes,
her facetwisting with the events,
her hand slapping the table,
her voice rising and falling off
as she danced the telling into their hearts and eyes.
As she grew older, married with children,
the telling remained, the same stories
timed like the meals she served.
A word, a look, a questionwould bring them on;
no matter what she was doing, she’d stop,
turn back the clock to the first telling.
Her eyes would come alive,her voice fill with feeling.
A hundred times, yet she could not
escape the telling, though some
drifted from the table to the living room.
She noticed, but couldn’t stop the
telling and the lessons held inside
each tale—the storyteller’s duty.
And I the son-in-law sat and watched
in awe and without interruption.
Once alone together, I called her
a raconteur and she turned on me like a cat.
“No,” I said, “I only wish
I could write stories like yours.”
She smiled and sighed, “But, oh,
if only I could write them down, I
wouldn’t have to keep telling them.”
When she was 86 she fell twice
and broke each hip, and with that
loss, she felt the bite of age
into her memory cells. Each year,
each month, she remembered less.
At first the closest things, the pan
left on the stove, what she had just started,
how to drive home from town.
And then the longer things went, like
when we last saw her, where they once lived,
the names of her brothers and sisters.
We prompted her, enabling herto go on,
because we couldn’t bear
losing her. But so she went
into the darkness of dementia,
and we moved her into nursing care,
a place where she sat in wheelchair and
watched the sun go up and down.
The family who would visit, leaned toward her
waiting for her stories to come pouring out,
prompting her with all they still held
of her telling…words, names, events.
But no stories came from her lips,
no tales came to those eyes.
And when she could barely talk, just
stare at us like strangers, she asked my wife
“And how is your mother?”
Freed at last of her stories, she's left us
to tell them to ourselves.
Causes Larry Smith Supports
peace and justice, meditation