I come from a family of storytellers.
My earliest memories are of the family folklore as told by my father, his cousin, his two sisters.
It was something I loved as a child. Listening as they worked their tongue magic, savoring details, their limbs and faces in lively animation. Laughter would erupt from all of the adults and the older kids, and I would feel buoyed by the effervescence in the room. I couldn’t follow the stories per se, but I loved the way the room felt.
My father was perhaps the best of them. He had a presence that commanded attention and he used it well. He also had an understanding of the use of a pause for dramatic build, and used this as deftly as Bruce Lee used his signature one inch punch.
However, my Aunt often elicited the strongest responses with the often shocking sexual innuendos that she had learned to weave into the fabric of her tellings. She worked bawdiness like a pro, and often had us teary-eyed with aching sides.
Once I became a teenager, of course, I became less than enthusiastic of their talents, these yarn-spinners.
I had no appreciation then that these stories had been developed over many re-tellings. That what might appear to an observer to be a spontaneously shared anecdote was actually a nuanced and practiced yarn, carefully spun over time, punchlines and timing finely honed through repeated sharing at family gatherings over the years.
I also had not yet developed an understanding or respect for this kind oral storytelling, that it is actually an experience wherein the storyteller and the audience create live art together. As an actor, as a human, I appreciate that more and more every year.
I think they call it a yarn for this reason: the storyteller connects the listeners together through the shared experience of the story itself. My memories of our family together are held together by the colorful threads of those yarns. I am connected to those people by these invisible strings. They live on in my heart.
Today, I relish my memories of these two masters at work. My Aunt still holds court at family gatherings, but my dad has since died. I have to rely on conjuring up sense memories of his booming voice and that devilish timing. My husband tries to re-create some of the best around his family. I’m glad they are given continued life through his breath.
Fortunately, I married into an Irish family. To my delight, I am able to witness an even stronger oral storytelling tradition through them. Talk about masters at weaving yarn! I think the Irish have perfected the art.
#storytelling #oralstorytelling #yarnspinning