Telling Tales

For as long as I can remember, I have always “lived in my head”, accompanied by an ever revolving host of characters who keep me company. When I was younger, I thought everyone did this; it wasn’t until I was out in the world at university that I realized how untrue this assumption was. My roommates got bored—they always needed to be with someone, or doing something—whereas I enjoyed simply laying on my bed daydreaming. I still do! Bored? How could you possibly be bored when your imagination is right there?

I credit my unique gift to summers spent at the family cottage on Georgian Bay where on a good day, we got one television channel, and there was nothing to do but play board games, read and sun ourselves on the dock. My parents were teachers, so we’d pack up at the end of June and not come back until Labour Day. In fact, my earliest memories are of me and my sister spending the 2.5 hour drive pretending to be fashionable nineteenth century ladies in our coach. How many seven-year-olds do that these days?

A black and white photograph of a man in front of a car circa 1920s

My grandfather, the original story teller.

On rainy days when we were stuck inside, we’d go through Grandma’s Sears catalogue, pretending to be models whose houses had burned down, and now we needed to buy everything we needed, from clothes to home furnishings. We even had a budget and everything.

I’ve been privileged to have two pivotal story tellers in my life. The first is my grandfather who regaled us on quiet evenings with tales of his boyhood in turn of the century Toronto; from delivering milk by horse and carriage, to stealing cookies from the kitchen, he was a troublemaker and had so many entertaining stories to tell. To learn years after his passing that he and my grandmother had no marriage certificate (he was a thirty year old man who talked an eighteen year old woman into eloping to Buffalo, but there are no official records) and that my aunt was an “early baby” was no real surprise. In fact it seemed fitting. From him I also got my love of history.

The book my cousin wrote for us.

The book my cousin wrote and illustrated for us almost thirty years ago.

My cousin must have inherited some of his talent. She was, and still is, one of those people you can listen to for hours. Back then, we would go on long walks in the woods and she would entertain us with often scary stories of three cousins who got into trouble exploring and had to rely on each other to save themselves. I don’t know how many hours she must have spent over the course of a dozen or more summers building up stories for us. She would parse out a bit each day and we would pester her mercilessly for more. At the time it seemed like magic, the way she could rattle something off the top of her head. Of course now, I realize how much work must have gone into it. She even wrote a book for us one Christmas. She was the one who taught me that you could create characters in your head, and now thirty-some-odd years later, I can’t imagine living without them.

I’m not a story teller—I’m no good verbally and that is an art I will never possess—but I like to think I’m carrying on that family legacy of spinning tales in my own fashion.

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