Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Happily ever afternoon

My grandfather's stories usually begin, "Twice upon a time," and end, "and they lived happily ever afternoon."

My grandmother's stories usually start, "When x was younger," or something to that effect. I'll let you know how they end if that ever happens.

They've been telling stories together for sixty years now, and this week, many of us gathered to celebrate their anniversary. And now that the gifts have been opened, I can talk here about my recent project, which was to compile some of my grandparents' stories in a book called Twice Upon a Time: Stories Worth Repeating. Writing down everything from "Citronella, The Bug-Off Girl" to "Uncle David and the Bell" was an exercise in memory. I'd forgotten plenty, but details and oh, yeah! moments came back as I wrote. My mother and my cousin were invaluable memory-joggers; I'm glad someone else was listening! (It helps, of course, that my mother was present for many of the true anecdotes.)

Brief though the book is, working on it taught me a lot about what makes a story a story and what makes it matter to the people who hear it. It's often in the very small things; the plot of "Citronella" may have changed with each telling, but Citronella was always found "bemoaning her fate: bemoan, bemoan, bemoan." As long as I tell the story, she'll continue to do so.

Happy anniversary, Saba and Savta.

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