“Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

“Pay attention. Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
— Mary Oliver (from Sometimes in Red Bird)

One day, probably fifty years ago my mother told me the story of the day she left her farm home in the early 1920s, to go into nurse’s training. She was the oldest girl, expected to stay and take care of the farm, when her mother and father, my grandparents, no longer could. Something about the courage it must have taken to walk away from old expectations kindled stories of how that might have been. An old family tale has taken on new life for me. I imagined my mother setting out upon a new path in her life braving the displeasure of my grandmother, and a story emerged. Old memories have transformed into story and in my later life I have discovered the storyteller and the author within me.

An editor’s note in the May/June edition of Poets and Writers’ magazine sparked something in me, something unexpected. The editor wrote of memories he’d had of himself as a young boy on a farm in Wisconsin. I was moved by his recollection of those younger days, stories edged with details that were sensory driven from his past. Sights, sounds, texture.

Whatever touched me from his article inspired memories of my own past when I’d visited aunts, uncles and cousins in rural Ontario throughout my childhood. Yet there was something beyond the recognition of kindred experiences. A place within me carrying the seeds of my storied life, responded.

I remembered bits and pieces of tales told, of lives lived, as though I’d brought out old family albums and brushed away the dust from the covers.

I am uncovering stories I thought I’d left behind. Aging is opening a trove of accumulated life experiences, which grant me possibilities of being witness to my life. The writer who has taken up residence within, delights in memories of me the small child, no more than six years old, who’d lie in the grasses in the field just across the road from our house in town and give names to the clouds. Might it be that even then, the storyteller in me was garnering insights and images, feelings of elation and wonder — despair and sorrow.

Clearly the number of years I’ve lived has added colour and detail to stories that once seemed remote. Discovering and rediscovering the joy of writing has awakened narratives that once might have seemed old and a bit tattered.

Now the renewed energy of paying attention and uncovering the essence of old stories has given legs to the past and steadfast intention to the storyteller who is awakening within me.

What is your storyteller remembering?

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