In the old days, before we spent most of our time on cell phones, or staring at a computer screen, my parents would sit with my grandma and Great Aunt Louise at my grandma's kitchen table and tell stories about Chicago. They would tell story after story about their beloved city, from its street cars to its weather, to its politics. Chicago was entwined with who each of them was, for they had each played a role, however small, in what the city had become.
I was too young to pay much attention, but I would pause from playing in my grandma's rambling, clapboard house in Chicago, long enough to listen and wonder why these stories meant so much to my family. Playing store with the cans in my grandma's pantry seemed way more fun. I enjoyed pretending I was a cashier at a grocery store.
Now, of course, I wish I had recorded the personal history of the city where I was born. If only to hear the voices of my loved ones who had died, but it's too late. And I don't want to be a cashier. Still, listening to those stories instilled in me the love of story-telling which perhaps made me a writer. Even more so, I learned the importance of sharing our stories because through stories we grow closer. One doesn't need to be a writer to appreciate story telling.
On Friday I went to an estate sale and bought these bunny book ends. (Those are the books where my essays and stories are published. I hope it motivates me to write more, and make those bunnies really work at keeping the books upright.) Anyway, at the estate sale I noticed a lot of bunny items. There were bunny china figurines, bunny pictures, bunny kitchen towels and enough bunnies for a lifetime of Easter celebrations. I mentioned to the middle-aged man who was taking my money for items purchased, that the person who had lived there must have loved bunnies. Oh yes, he said. He looked please to tell the story about the woman who died. He said she didn't have dogs, or cats, or birds. She always had a bunny. One at a time. And she always named the bunny... Bunny. I was enchanted.
"And," he said, warming to the subject. "She always had birthday parties for her bunnies." She was an elderly woman when she died, he said, but she had found a home for her last bunny.
Before I left, I took another long look at the house, painted violet with purple trim. The story he told me felt important because it was about love. For bunnies. And I realized if he had told me a different story, about how much money she had, or how popular she was, or what an important job she had, I would have shrugged and not cared. It was her bunny story that I will remember.
My friend Jo Anna died last March from breast cancer at 58. I think about the stories she would tell about growing up in Buffalo, New York. Her mother would take her to the zoo every day. Even in the winter. Imagine that. I won't remember, or care, if she had a big car or a big bank account. I will remember that when she tap danced she moved as if she was on a Broadway stage. She did her best. Her house with the claw-foot tub, and all her jewelry, belongs to someone else now. All that remains are the stories people remember about her.
I know material things are important for survival, but how often at funerals do people share stories about how someone drove a Lexus or managed well his 401k? What people talk about is the stories, the funny times, the crazy moments, how someone touched our life.
Here's one about me. My first boyfriend was named Bruce Adams. He's that dapper little fellow just to the right of the photo of Fairview Elementary School. He was a year older than me and my neighbor. He was the first boy I ever kissed. Our relationship didn't progress past the third grade, and the kiss was just on his cheeks, but I will always remember Brucie. That was my nickname for him. He wore sweaters and bow ties to school.
In then end, the stories are what remain. I feel happier knowing there was a woman who lived down the street from me who gave birthday parties for her bunnies. It's a great story. We all have great stories. We just need to tell them.