Monday, March 1, 2010

Telling Stories

There's a public pool and fitness center in our neighborhood. Katie took me there on Saturday to help introduce Honey to swimming. I don't know what this architectural style is called - Mission or Prairie or something else - with natural materials, high ceilings and lots of windows. Its very attractive, and we see it all over town, especially in the public buildings. Every time I see one of these nice buildings, or the River trail, or the city's parks and museums, I wonder who created them and left them here for my enjoyment. I'll have to do some research about that.

It was about 45 degrees outside on Saturday morning, but sun streamed into the pool area. The space was really pretty. Elderly ladies made way for us in the pool and cheered us on. There was a father-daughter pair having a swimming lesson and one other small boy swimming with his mother. Honey seemed to really love watching these other people, getting in and out of the pool, and just floating in the water. She was fearless and enthusiastic. We all had a wonderful time.

With her small but growing vocabulary, Honey has started telling people stories about what happens to her. Each story is usually only three or four words, but its clear that she's eager to explain something when stringing them together. You can't always understand what she's telling, though. As Katie says, if you weren't there, you won't know what the story means. For example, if she says "Bike, Honey, Oh-No" you can picture a bike ride that ended badly. But if she says, "Water Nana Honey Mommy" how would you know that she's telling about going swimming with me and Katie? Or when she tells me "Water Daddy Happy" I can only guess that she's saying how happy her dad had been to hear about the swimming trip.

My new boss is equally cryptic with the stories she tells about our clients. Its "Squandering Daddy's money" or "Sharp, like her mother" and not much more detail. Sometimes I would really like to know more. For example, is "Sharp" the beneficiary of good genes or good parenting or good luck or all-of-the-above? And what really happened to poor old "Squandering" anyway?

And then there's that story my Dad tells about his visit to Little Rock as a ten year old boy in 1936. After tax season is over, I plan to find the plot of land that Dad visited. I want to stand there - if I can - and imagine the scene as Dad would have seen it. I suspect that his great aunt's farm is now buried under a runway at the city's main airport, but I have not yet tracked down the records. Stay tuned for that.

My mother-in-law, Evelyn Wiggins, was a great story teller. She was also an avid genealogist and wrote down lots of important information about the family. In my spare time, I've been trying to piece together some Wiggins family stories from the information Evelyn left us, plus the stories she told us over the years. There are many frustrating gaps. For example, Evelyn herself was orphaned at age 5 after her parents - Laveda and Leonard - both succumbed to TB. Evelyn had two grandmothers living nearby at the time. One granny was married and relatively well-to-do. The other was widowed and desperately poor. As far as I can recall, Evelyn never explained why the poor granny wound up taking her in and not the rich one. We only heard that the poor one was "Fiercely Loving, Strict" and the other was "Cold" - not much of an explanation.

For me, the question seemed resolved when we found this photograph. The woman pictured on the right is Laveda's mother - the "poor" granny - and the other woman is Laveda's eldest sister, Mimi. The year is 1925 and they are sitting next to Laveda's grave in Jacksonville after her funeral. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see how comforted these women would have been by the presence of Laveda's little daughter in their home. And maybe that's all we need to know about this story.

Tell me your stories!!! Even if you only have time to tell me the short version - "New Boss, Oh-No, Job-Hunting!" - I'm eager to hear from you. You can always post a comment to this blog, or send me an email. Just go ahead and tell!

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