Three people - an older man, an adult man, and an adult woman, sit talking and laughing on a porch together.

Storytellers: Hand-Me-Down Memories

Daddy was a storyteller from a long line of storytellers. It’s a family tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. When we all get together, that’s what we do. We share and reshare. We tell and retell. Occasionally, some of us exaggerate and embellish. I won’t name any names, Uncle Jackie. We mimic the voices and actions of the familiar cast of characters. We laugh or cry or shake our heads in unison. We sometimes question the larger-than-life scenarios ourselves, but we tell the stories anyway. We relive. It’s just the Grantham way.

Storytelling runs in our family

As kids, my siblings and cousins and I would gather around wide-eyed and ready to soak in the monologues and one-act plays as delivered by our aunts, uncles, and grandparents. We’d hear the reruns of the pranks Maw Grantham’s seven kids played on her. We’d listen amazed at the story of the time Daddy put a horse-drawn wagon on top of a local store building. We’d take in the half-truths and myths about panthers and other creatures that apparently dwelled within the nearby forests. We were glued to them as they spoke and shot each other glances and interjected forgotten details.

The only thing that really changed over the last several decades was that as we grew, so did our skepticism. It didn’t keep us from retelling the stories ourselves though. We retold the stories and added on our memories of hearing them. We conveyed the legends to the next generations and added new chapters to the ever-growing anthology.

Storytelling did not go away after dementia

Even after dementia set in, the storytelling impulse didn’t go away for Daddy. Even though his stories became encrypted, he told them any time he found a captive audience. He still seemed adamant in his delivery. He knew what he was saying and from what corner of his brain he was pulling the narratives. We just didn’t. The tone of his voice was familiar. His mockery and mimicry were familiar. His expressions and head shakes were familiar. The words were not. They were just drawn from a hat at random it seemed. It was up to us to try to crack the code. Sometimes we succeeded. Sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes word substitutions made sense and gave us hints. Sometimes it was a jumbled, nonsensical slurry of word soup.

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Even then, we still sat wide-eyed just as we did as kids, just maybe not for the same reasons. We nodded along. We smiled when he smiled and frowned when he grimaced. We followed the same cues that we had our entire lives. We reacted in kind at his disbelief or sarcasm or glee. That was enough for him as the storyteller.

In the end, Daddy didn’t “lose” his memories even if he couldn’t always deliver them effectively. He gave them to us. The well he drew from became our own. Daddy wasn’t a rich man. He didn’t leave us much, but what he left us was more precious than any estate or riches. He left us a compilation of lifetimes to live and relive. Who can say that they were given the gift of immortality? We kind of were. We get to live not only our lives but the lives of all of those who came before us thanks to a misfit band of seven mischievous siblings who felt the importance of passing on the legends as well as the myths.

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