I’ve grown up around stories my whole life. With the family I have, you’re bound to have some great ones, and my mom and grandma are like the family history books. Living with both of them has given me a wealth of stories to remember fondly. I’ve heard countless snippets of daily life, tales from family camping trips, and even stories from all the way across the world. But what does it really mean for a story to matter, and how do we know that they matter?
In Sandra Cisneros’s book, The House on Mango Street, the reader is treated to what appears to be some kind of diary. They read short snippets from the life of a young Mexican-American named Esperanza as she grows up in a house on Mango Street. The sections can often seem random and insignificant, but every one of them serves a purpose, and Esperanza tells them for a reason. In the chapter, “Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark”, Esperanza recounts the time her father, whom she looks up to and sees as a strong and stoic man, cries as he tells her that her grandfather has died. This story matters to Esperanza because it helps her learn that no matter how strong someone is or how strong you may think they are, they’re still human. This story is a lesson for Esperanza. It helps to shape who she is and how she thinks by teaching her something she never thought of before.
However, stories matter in ways other than just being a lesson. Stories can take the shape of a little difference in your daily life, or they can be some wild experience. But which of these stories is more important: those fond memories you have with family and friends from your daily life or the spectacular adventures that you brag about and remember forever?
My grandmother has been on countless adventures across the globe. She’s travelled all of Europe for a summer trip with her husband, she lived in Taiwan for a year, she’s ridden trains in India that are twice as old as herself, and she once rode a camel at the age of 82. Grandma is a never-ending supply of adventurous stories and trips to be jealous of. Some of my favorite stories are from her year spent living in Taiwan with my grandpa. There are almost more stories from there than any other trip she’s gone on. The reason why I love those stories is because of the fondness with which she tells them. Whenever I listen to her as she tells them, I can feel the happiness and emotion with which she speaks. I can tell that, although I know that wasn’t her favorite year ever, she has some of her best memories there. I can sense that those memories helped to shape her for years to come.
That’s how those stories matter𑁋the ones from Taiwan. Those stories affected Grandma more than most other stories. They made her who she is today. That’s not to say that all of her other stories didn’t, in fact it’s the opposite. You can always tell which stories matter to Grandma because those are the ones where her voice changes, the ones where she really gets into the stories, where she stops trying to entertain you and simply lets the story roll off her tongue, wrapping you in the plot as she goes. It’s these stories that matter to her because they are the ones that define who she is. They are her history. If you were to sit down with my grandma and have a simple chat, you might not ever realize how much of an incredible woman she is. You wouldn’t know that she led a school strike in the third grade. You might not realize that in the 1950’s she moved out on her own as a single, independent woman and began working in a man’s world. You might not find out that she’s travelled to every continent in the world (besides Antarctica). You may be reading this and think, “Well you’re telling me this, so now I know everything about your grandmother.” But the only way you could really understand this is by listening to her and her stories. Her stories and the way that she tells them are how you truly get to know my grandmother.
One of my favorite family stories is one I recently heard from my sister for the first time. My mom and dad used to make tuna sandwiches for themselves and my sister every Sunday for lunch; they loved them some tuna sandwiches. Well all that stopped when for some reason they decided to try the Atkins diet. No more carbs meant no more tuna sandwiches. After a couple weeks of restricting themselves to no bread whatsoever, Sunday lunch-time rolled around and my mom started to make what they must have felt was their billionth salad. My dad, who was having the worst of the diet, looked over to my mom and said, “Damn it, woman, I want a tuna sandwich! No more of this Nazi bread diet!” And that was that. No more Atkins diet for them.
What’s great about this story is the personal connection I have to it. I know my mom and my dad and my sister. They are all familiar to me and I love them all very dearly, so that adds an extra dimension to this story that maybe not everyone else would get. I may not have even been born yet, but this story helps to tell me who I am and where I come from. My family is one of the main reasons I am the person I am today, and it’s the stories like these that helps me realize why I’m like this𑁋a weirdo who loves to laugh and tell funny stories. My family is my background and without them I wouldn’t be the person I am right now.
Photo ©2012 by Laurel Harvey [CC-by-2.0]
Joe Lazauskus said it well when he said, “If you think about [why stories matter] enough, you’ll likely come up with a very personal answer𑁋a story that changed your life in some way.” That’s why we love stories so much. They change us. They affect who we are as people. The stories can be big and adventurous, or they can be small and insignificant. They can be a personal experience or something someone told us that one time. But whatever the story, for it to really matter, it has to have made us who we are today.
I think I prefer stories from daily life over the great, adventurous ones, because they show your true identity. They may seem small and meaningless, but they are the ones that really show who you are, what you do from day to day𑁋what’s important to you, what makes you laugh, what makes you sad, the things you like and the things you hate. I know this is cheesy and it’s been said millions of times, but it really is the little things that count. The tiny, insignificant stories are the ones that make you who you are.