Storytelling

November 14,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Apparently November is not only the month to write a novel, and a blog post/day (I've got that pretty much covered), but it's also Family Stories Month--the month you're supposed to focus extra hard on sharing the family stories that make up your rich family history, past and present. I love family stories. I like to hear my own family's stories, but I also love to hear the stories shared by others. I love to spend time with an older person in particular, and hear him or her unfold before me a colorful narrative, whether it be funny or sad or trivial. I think that growing up without these stories is to be deprived of the oral legacy that binds us all together--grandkids to grandparents, uncles to aunts, siblings to siblings, and parents to their own children. In this increasingly visual age, where we document so much virtually, we're in danger of losing the ability to tell our own stories to our children, to pass that torch to another generation.

When I was growing up, I loved to sit at the dinner table and hear my dad's stories. He grew up in a family of six kids, and there was always enough craziness--both humorous and heartbreaking, to fill up pages and pages of a book. Now, around our own dinner table (when we're not arguing with L. about how he's not eating, or telling T. to stop putting rice into her drink), we often find ourselves getting caught up in storytelling. I have found myself more and more telling my own kids stories from my past. Now that all my grandparents have passed on, I feel that it's important to speak their names again; to fill in the blanks in my children's lives, so that when they hear their names they can immediately recreate a memory of them in their minds. Thinking about this made me remember how, a long time ago, my father looked up from a book he was reading to remark something about a tribe somewhere, who believed that the dead lived again when their loved ones spoke their names out loud into the air. The sounds of their names would fall on the ears of those who loved them just as they used to do, and in the process, their spirits would return, albeit briefly, to the world again. This is a beautiful idea, I think--that in speaking the name of someone we love, someone who has passed away, we carve out a little space for them to exist again next to us.

So this weekend, in honor of Family Stories Month, sit at the table together. Tell your kids stories from your childhood. Make your past come alive for them; give them a chance to grasp the threads that connect them to a larger family history, to family members who may no longer be living, but who can come alive again in the stories you tell.

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What better way to get everyone around the table than to make a big batch of pancakes on a weekend morning? We make pancakes every Sunday at our house, but I know families who set aside Saturday for that tradition. Last weekend I tried, with some trepidation, a new recipe for pancakes. It involves mixing in a cup of rice cereal. I imagine any hot rice cereal, or Cream of Wheat would do just fine. The pancakes weren't light and fluffy, but the cereal gave an airiness to them, and they were comforting to eat, and purely delicious when topped with syrup or apple butter. I ate the leftovers later in the day, toasted in the toaster and spread with black cherry jam.

Rice Cereal Pancakes

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup warm rice cereal

1 cup milk

2 eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon melted butter or butter substitute

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix the dry ingredients together. Stir the wet ingredients in separate bowl. Then combine them and mix well. Drop batter by spoonfuls onto hot griddle (the batter will spread quite a bit, so don't make the drops too large or the batter will run off down the griddle in messy puddles, as happened to me with the first pancake).

Happy Weekend!  And happy storytelling...