Who Are Your Storytelling Mentors?

If you haven’t had a chance to watch LeVar Burton’s keynote speech from this year’s Roots Tech, then you might just want to check it out here. Levar Burton speaks about the powerful impact his mother had on his life. He talks about how his mother was his introduction to storytelling. I too had parents that were storytellers; my father; Harvey much more than my mother; Eleanor.

Harvey regaled us at the dinner table with stories of growing up on the farm. Tales of walking to school at the age of 6 and having to walk 3 miles. Of course, we always bugged him that it was 3 miles uphill both ways.  One of my favorite stories is when he was 12 or so he walked in – 55 degree Fahrenheit (-48C) weather and arriving at the school only to wonder why just the teacher was there. Even to this day, I wonder how my grandmother could have sent him at such an early age to school in such cold temperatures.  Today we would be pulling up to the school in the family SUV and dropping him off at the door even he even went at all. How was she sure he’d arrived at school at all? We live in different times that for sure.

Or the story my father told about holding his three-year-old sister’s finger on the chopping block and teasing her that he was going to chop her finger off and her saying; do it. Or about a plane that had crashed by the family farm and how he and his father had to guard the crash site until the authorities could arrive.

Mom’s stories were about the people in her family. Stories of her maternal great-grandmother; Wilamenea Katarina Luxenburg who we were told had grown up in a well to do family in Germany and really didn’t know how to do household chores when she came to Canada. Or stories of her paternal great-grandfather; John Henry Middlebrough who had come to Canada to convince his son to come back to England to help with the family brewery.

These were just a few of the stories that were told and retold. These were the stories that created my love for family history and a thirst to learn more about who these people were. These are the stories I tell my children and my grandson.

Who were your storytellers?


  • Lori says:

    I am lucky as I come from a family of storytellers. I used to bug my grandma for stories of when she was growing up, but more often than not, she herself would begin stories with, “When I was five..” or some similar preface.
    My grandfather often told the same old stories that everyone had heard over and over, but then I began to ask him very specific stories and ask him to remember about things we’d not heard about. My grandfather passed on his 91st birthday in 2001, and I am glad that I wrote down some of his stories as he related them.
    My dad has often related stories from his younger years *he is now 81), and my dad is very specific as he has a remarkable memory and often begins his stories with, “On a Monday in October of 1950…” I realized I had learned how to do this myself as I would begin to relate a story or memory and friends would grimace and smirk and ask me how I knew it was on Tuesday in December of 1972???? I had learned how to relate experiences with dates and days and correlate happenings with specific times. It can drive some people nuts, but I have excellent recall like this.
    My uncles (both mom’s and dad’s brothers) often share stories and have for years. I also have a great aunt who is almost 91 and she tells me a lot of wonderful stories from times long gone before I was born. Stories about her parents (who I knew very little), siblings, her husband and son, and her life, including stories of my mom and uncle.
    I have found most people love to reminisce about their past- all you have to do is begin asking some questions and show an interest.
    I began a few years ago to write down random memories in a book so my kids and grandkids will have them when I am gone.
    I love family stories! Whether my family’s or some one else’s. It is history and specific information on a particular family during a particular time. Fun!!!

  • Willene Gillies says:

    When my youngest son was about 6½ years old I had to tell him that his great grandfather had passed away the night before. He looked very sad and then quietly said, “No more stories from Grandpa.” I had not realized what an impact my grandfather’s stories had made on my little son.

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