Story Rituals

In our most recent Living Room episode, called "Meaningful Rituals," I shared a favorite ritual from my growing-up years: Storytelling.

When I was a little girl, my beloved grandmother told us a favorite bedtime story every time we slept over. I loved listening to her gentle voice tell us the old-fashioned tale "Cozette"— so much that I asked for a tape recording for my 25th birthday. You can read more about that special story here.

Grandma also told us silly stories about our dad when he was growing up: how he got a baby chick for Easter and named it Hallelujah. How he put two kittens in the fridge, and a duck in the dryer, and rode a horse bareback. How he misbehaved. We LOVED this youngster image of our dad that only Grandma could share.

My grandpa always told us stories that would raise the hair on the back of your neck: How he and his friends spit on a horseshoe for good luck, then he tossed it over his shoulder and sent it crashing through the school window! How he had a part-time job playing the organ at the silent movie theater, and playing saxophone in a dance band. How great-grandpa Cort once shot a bear right between the eyes...and outsmarted a town official in order to get justice for a Japanese immigrant the man had swindled. Grandpa himself later spoke out against the Japanese internment camps during World War 2. 

My grandpa on my mom's side used to SING us his stories. He loved the Christopher Robin songs by A. A. Milne and delighted us over and over with his adorable boyish renditions. It was pure magic to hear him sing these timeless stories.

My mother told us stories of her own family: How she was raised by her grandmother, whom they affectionately called Marmee (like the character she was nicknamed fora strong young widow with four spirited daughters); How her youngest brother would spit out a now-famous string of the naughtiest words he could think of: P.O. Poop Out Stinker Bum!; how her father took them sailing on the Great Salt Lake, sang baritone solos in the Messiah, and had his own radio show; how her mother worked at an advertising agency in Los Angeles and how Grandpa called her his Happy Heart. And how her daddy would come home at night and entertain them at the dinner table by telling stories.

My father told us stories of his own childhood adventures -- ones I’m sure he never told his mother: How he and his friends found a dead body on the capitol grounds; How he found a leather pouch full of money under a tree and inadvertently interrupted an FBI stakeout; how he and his friends let the air out of the tires of a whole fleet of police cars parked at the capitol building one night; how an unstable kid named Ikey threatened to kill him; and how he discovered a hermit cave—and the hermit who lived there!   Dad also made up hilarious bedtime stories about spaceships and astronauts and what could go wrong in outer space. My dad's stories, more than any other, made me want to seek out and live adventures of my own, and write about them.

My husband is the King of Story. He writes screenplays, teaches screenwriting, produces and directs movies, creates webisodes, and exhausts every possible outlet for storytelling (as evidenced in his TedX talk, here). He reads wonderful books out loud to the family -- The Tale of Despereaux, Walk Two Moons, and Watership Down. Most recently we listened to The Boys in the Boat on tape, and he read to us aloud, "The Road" by Cormack McCarthy. He also makes up fabulous stories about our kids and their friends and their secret superpowers. He lives and breathes story.

And I've told a few stories of my own. One of my favorites became sort of an allegory on giving. Here is Jeremiah's Bedtime Story, on ethat has survived for many years, called An Hundredfold

So you can see how the ritual of storytelling, begun by my grandparents, lives on in my life and the lives of our children. 


   Jana Winters Parkin is an artist, writer, teacher, and adjunct art professor at UVU. She and her husband have 3 kids and 2 dogs, and she spends every day possible rejuvenating her soul in Utah's glorious mountains.

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