One of the most rewarding ways to use your outdoor living space is to gather your family members for a reunion. Perhaps it’s a small group that gets together annually or a large one whose far-flung members attend every two or five or even 10 years. Whether large or small, a reunion is a wonderful opportunity to knit families closer together through shared stories.
In the much-underrated 1990 film Avalon, a Russian immigrant to 1940s America relates the disintegration of his family ties. In his young manhood, his children gathered at the feet of older relatives during family gatherings and listened to tales of their heritage and history. As television took hold of society in the late ’50s, children and adults alike opted for the entertainment of television personalities, instead of the stories of their roots.
But just as the art of listening to stories has gone by the wayside, so has the art of telling them. Here’s how to re-start a tradition of storytelling at your family reunion.
Advise all who will be attending that there will be an opportunity to tell some stories about the family, and let them know you’d love to hear them share something. Especially encourage older ones to think about their children when they were young, their own childhood, or even stories they may remember from their parents. With only a little effort, you can be hearing about things that happened over a century ago.
Have some questions prepared to start the ball rolling. “Where did your family go on vacation when your children were small?” “How did you and Grandpa meet?” “What’s the funniest thing one of your children ever did?” “How did you manage through tough times?”
Encourage storytellers to use descriptions that will engage all of the senses. Was the thunder rolling in the distance just before the downpour when Grandma and Grandpa bumped into each other running for cover? Did the scent of the lilacs in Aunt Ellen’s garden waft in through her kitchen window? Was there a cool breeze on the beach near the family vacation campsite? Did the sun sparkle off the snow on the mid-winter drive to Uncle Max’s? Was the strawberry jam your mom made the sweetest you ever tasted? Use touch, smell, and taste as well as sight and sound to bring the scene to life for listeners.
The best stories have a point. “That’s when I first learned how important it is to be on time.” “If it hadn’t rained that day, we might never have met, and most of you would never have been born!” It doesn’t have to be profound, but be prepared to help your tellers wrap up their stories with a short statement of its significance.
Get the younger ones involved too — perhaps you can encourage them to be official family historians who will record the stories. If there’s a group, give them papers and drawing materials and ask them to take pictures of the scenes they will hear unfold. You can have the older ones label the drawings and then gather them together with ribbon. Each family can take home their personal family album.
If there are old photographs that support an account or a time period, mount these in archive quality materials and display them in a shady spot or pass them around while the story is being told. Use other mementos as well. Your great-grandfather’s railroad watch that he wore to work every day for 45 years or a playbill from your first date will help bring life to the accounts of those special times.
So gather your loved ones on your porch or patio and make some memories while you start a storytelling tradition