I went away this weekend. I packed up a bag, boarded a plane and in just shy of three hours was enjoying lunch with my sister at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, Arizona. With the sun warm on our backs, surrounded by the beauty of the Sonoran desert, we lingered over herb-infused tea and caught up on each other’s lives. It was a wonderful way to spend some time.
Saturday night we found ourselves sitting around a table of ten (all relatives) Snowbirds who spirit away from gray northern days to soak up all the sun that Phoenix has to offer. The home cooked meal, lovingly prepared by a dear cousin included baked rice with custard and cinnamon, one of my mother’s signature dishes, and it brought back memories of her. It’s an old family recipe that got us all talking and between the ooh’s and aah’s, someone even commented that it was the personal favorite of a beloved uncle who is no longer with us. The storytelling escalated from there and after everyone had cleaned their plates, it was clear that none of us wanted to leave. Four hours later we were still swapping tales and remembering the past, unwilling to leave the big oval circle, for as much as the anecdotes kept us entertained, they also reinforced our connections and nourished our souls. On some unspoken level we knew we were being enriched by something intangible and as unique as the people we were remembering.
It was scenes like this that made me fall in love with storytelling. I was often transfixed by the adults who could spend hours sharing tales of their trials and tribulations without ever repeating themselves. It was like free group therapy as well as an endless supply of entertainment that kept me fascinated and craving more. It’s a funny thing about writing. When you take writing classes they tell you to write what you know and at the time I didn’t understand the true meaning of that statement. I mean, what did I know? It wasn’t until I sat down to write my own stories that fragments of family lore sparked my imagination, and I got it. In fact, two bachelor uncles who worked as farmhands became the impetus for my first novel, The Bachelor Farmers. Another story about a young uncle who was the victim of a farm accident was the spark for the book I am writing now. Though I wasn’t present for any of these experiences they are what I know, and I feel them in a deep personal way. Stories like these reside in the fabric of all of life’s connections. They summon emotions. A fragment from a tale about the kids stealing eggs from the chicken coop or the child that ended up on a runaway horse gives way to something bigger.
So the next time you’re gathered around a table to share a traditional meal and reminisce, be aware that if you eat slowly, you’re bound to get something a lot more sustaining than just the meal. And listen for those nuggets, you never know where they might end up.