Storytelling: A Lesson Learned from Family

Storytelling helps keep the past alive and keep the future from being distorted.

May 26, 2020

Storytelling: A Lesson Learned from Family

Growing up, I rarely read books at home. We didn’t have bookshelves or cases. I don’t even know if my parents have a favorite book—I rarely saw them reading anything other than bills or work documents. Sometimes though, my dad did read hunting and motorcycle magazine as he waited for my or my brother's doctor’s appointments. My mom works in an office, so reading happens, but rarely of books. And, I always think about my grandma, who I’ve never heard speak a full sentence in English, reading the all English Desert Sun every single morning with coffee in her small, white cup trimmed with gold. Even though books weren’t prevalent in my homes, our days were filled with stories.

I love family gatherings. The way my aunts and cousins and grandma sit around and talk about people and memories older than me. The ways they create the scenes and dialogue made me realize the past is not so far away after all. The people live through their voices. Whether they are real or characters, they are alive. At the edge of their words, the magic surges, pull us in and we laugh from its power. Everyone connected like we’d been lassoed.

One of my favorite stories is about my great grandfather, who died way before I “was even a thought”—as my dad would like to timestamp memories before my existence. As my grandma likes to tell it, my great grandpa would get so drunk his nose “se ponía chueca.” It’d begin to slant on his face as if it was loose. Twisting more and more on his face as the drinking deepened. One night, he and his neighbor and my still-young grandpa were coming back from the bar. Flying up the dirt road full of the looseness and carelessness of too much liquor. When my great grandpa, nose chueca, turned a corner too fast, the passenger door flew open from their inertia and his friend flew out. Rolling in the dirt. When my great grandpa went back for him, he said, “¡Me tumbaste pendejo!”

I laugh just writing about this. Imagining my straight-faced grandpa with his equally straight-faced father both of their noses chuecas and drunk and nowhere near straight-faced. A false memory seeded and entwined with all the others.

Part of my love for my family’s stories is that people will be remembered as who they were. Whether they're alive or dead, their stories will be tainted with idealization, especially the kind which can frequently happen with death. If you're a shit-talking drunk, then you're a shit-talking drunk. That's it. So, if you know my family, we all know this about you.

There is something so beautiful about maintaining this humanness. This is precisely how everyone I know has been able to live even if they’re not alive. The way I can still hear their voices or, even better, their laughs. This is precisely how so many histories, despite so many efforts to erase it, have been able to live.

Right now, we’re living through a historic moment, and we can already see the revisions to our story taking place. People have died and are continuing to die, but we’ve done a “great” job in handling this pandemic. Everyday our stories play a huge part in maintaining the truth. Stories keep the past alive and the future from being distorted. Without my family, I don’t know if I would’ve realized either.