Driving homeward at dusk last night, I watched lights flicker on in windows of the houses we passed. Those pale rectangles of light made me wonder—not for the first time—who lived in those houses and what stories they could tell.
Stories are with me always… the true stories of family and friends that I have heard through the years, the ones I make up to amuse the grandchildren, the ones I research and write. Stories are everywhere and none fascinate me more than the ones I will never hear.
Have you sat on a beach or walked in the street or lingered at a store in the mall and heard a snatch of conversation that floated by? A half sentence that caught your ear and made you wonder how it was finished? Those bits and pieces of talk are often the bag and baggage of a writer, and I find myself playing with the words and picturing the story. Yes, the cat was up a tree for five days and nights, and …? So the screen door to the porch was slashed when….? And what do I think happened when she came home and found…? Oh, indeed, there are stories waiting to be told.
Sometimes, the stories involve not just unfinished sentences but people we meet for just a little while before the river of life flows on and we drift apart. The beautiful elderly woman who watched American troops liberate Paris; the small, calm gentleman who explained, while we were sailing along the Yangtze River, that he had long ago been one of the protesters at China’s Tiananmen Square—their lives and mine intersected for just a little while, but I remember them and wonder how they are.
A long time ago, my eighth grade English teacher told me that I had a frightening imagination, and perhaps this is true. But, consider—everyone has memories and stories that will be inevitably lost if they are not told. And such rich stories they could be! I remember buying an old quilt once and learning—quite by chance—that the long-ago quilter was a poor farm wife who had seven children and who used scraps from her sewing basket to piece seven large quilts so that all could stay warm during the bleak winters. I also fondly recall a formidable old lady who whispered to me that, when she was young, she wrote a bright red dress and danced the hoochy-koochy on the table. There is also the story of my Uncle Harry and the old beggar.
“Long ago,” my uncle once told me, “my company was almost ready to collapse. We had no business and no ready money. We were,” he added, “existing on what you might call the smell of an oil rag. But that was when the beggar came to the office…”
My uncle’s secretary wanted to send the ragged man away, but Harry would not allow this. “He looked old and weak and hungry, so I gave him cash for food, and he thanked me and handed me a rather dirty print of the gods of fortune. He said it would bring me luck. And if you can believe it…” a dramatic pause… “the next day Mr. K. walked into the office.”
Mr. K. was to become my uncle’s financial backer and patron, his lifelong friend. The beggar’s print? I remember it well, for it was framed and hung behind Harry’s desk for years. I don’t know what happened to it, but that really doesn’t matter because I have the story.
We need to remember our stories. We need to record and tell them so that they can be like those lights glowing in the windows of houses we pass in the night.
At your knee I heard
Things that made me laugh or sigh…
Yes, I remember.