A few months before this picture was taken (at a friend’s wedding), Emilee Elizabeth, the youngest of my grands, was visiting California.
We’d just moved into our new home, and boxes, boxes, boxes were stacked about…mostly in one room. Like all good little homemakers, I wanted to have the feeling of being settled when my daughter and grandkids came for a visit.
But then there was that last room, the overflow room. I had systematically stacked all of my art, sewing and craft supplies in this room. There were hundreds of books and a gazillion boxes of photos. And to make matters worse, I had a slew of boxes from my parents’ things crammed into the little 10’x10′ room. A maze, an amazing maze of STUFF. And then my daughter and her three children arrived into this chaos.
Immediately we went through GMA* and GPA’s* House Orientation: How everything worked and what to avoid. While the kids played and explored the weed-covered yard, I said to my daughter, Wren, “Come see the Guest Room.” She was duly appalled. We giggled about all the junk. We laughed, and each of us commented that finding anything would be done so by pure luck! She vowed that when she was living in California, she would help me purge. “I’m good at it, Mom.”
I noticed that little Emilee, not quite 4, had slipped in to the Guest Room with us, all ears and eyes. So, I continued that House Orientation, “Emmy, please do not come into this room without a grown-up. You’ll need to ask Paka (that’s me in GMA Land) if you see something you want to touch.” “OK, Paka,” she replied.
Right about then someone hollered for us, and we set to other projects, tasks, etc. Friends were stopping by to see Wren and the kids. I had food to prepare. The two big kids were pouring back into the house to tell about their outside adventures. Chaos had once again settled around us, like an old friendly and well-worn blanket.
A few minutes later I noticed that Emilee was quietly playing with a familiar basket, but one that I hadn’t really noticed since we moved in. The basket was brimming with little plastic-molded toy animals.
“Emmy, where did you find that?” I asked.
“In the Guessing Room,” she replied. I squelched a big guffaw. Not in the Guest Room, no. She called that room like it was! And so that thickly cluttered room was dubbed that day!
These days “The Guessing Room” has been thinned out and is not terribly cluttered, but the name remains. Now just 7 years old, Emilee told me recently, “It’s still the ‘Guessing Room,’ Paka, even if you can find stuff in there now.”
This kid hears a story once and has it. She takes it and embellishes it. She choreographs her re-tellings and uses her body, voice, gesture, repetitions. She has a full bag of tellers’ tricks that I’ve noticed she’s learning how to use, spiced up well with a vivid imagination.
Early in the Summer we sat snuggled together in a big yard chair. I told her family history stories of our Wyandotte Indian heritage. Suddenly she asked, “So, I’m a Wind-Up Indian?” I chuckled, then gently corrected her pronunciation. Then I told this busy girl that she was a Wind-Up Wyandotte.
As we sat quietly, cuddled together in the glow of Summer’s twilight, I heard her murmur, “I didn’t forget that I was Wyandotte, Paka. I just never knew.”
Slowly, gently Emilee emerges as the family storyteller, the one in our clan who just might carry on the oral tradition. At least that what it looks like this week.
If you have someone in your family, who shows signs of carrying on your family lore, encourage him/her. Help that youngun to learn the stories of your family history in a way that is playful, sustaining. Let him/her take the story and personalize it. If you’re concerned about historical documentation, then record the facts in a place that can be passed down. But if you just want the stories to live on tongues, then let them take on a new life for a new generation! And then listen to those young tellers enjoy creating new stories as they emerge into their own lives and times. Emilee’s oldest sibling, Sage, loves to write–another way to carry on the storytelling tradition in families.
*– In “texting” lingo GMA = Grandmother & GPA = Grandfather.