When I was growing up I never could understand why my parents and aunts and uncles told the same stories over and over. They would take turns narrating this event or the next, usually some arcane piece of history that happened between them. To my teenaged mind this was so boring and I do mean “Booooooorrrrrrrinnngggg.” It was like a TV soap opera where the cast would talk about something that was going to happen for two weeks, then it would happen and then they would talk about what happened for two more weeks. It drove me out of my mind.
As I got older and moved away from home to go to school, I began to get sucked into the whole repeat-story-telling thing. Soon I was retelling stories of my cousins teaching our parents how to do the “Twist.” That was usually coupled with the story of the time my aunts decided to emulate their kids sliding down the stairwell on their stomachs. That worked well for the kids, not so well for my well endowed aunts. Once that happened, I popped through some invisible barrier from kid to family-story-repeat-telling adult.
In her later years, my Mom and I were the worst of the lot. We retold stories each time we were together. It was then that I truly learned the value of perspective. Each time Mom told the story, I learned something new about the event. Each time I told the story, she learned something new. These weren’t stories about other people; they were stories that we experienced ourselves. We were there, we lived through them. Yet when we repeated the stories, we still learned something new; usually some background part of the story, something that explained what happened more and more.
Every five years, my high school class gathers for a reunion. And yes, the same stories get passed around again and again, told be the very people who were involved in them. Again I learn something new with each retelling. I gain a new perspective, a little nuance each time and store it carefully in my memory. Sometime it is a realization as to why someone did what they did or reached to the event the way they did. Each retelling of the story enriches the memory. The amazing thing is that sometimes when the memory or event is a painful one, understanding comes along with a diminishing of that pain. Now that is a true gift. As time goes by, the memories grow more positive and the bond that holds my classmates together grow stronger.
The past few weeks have been difficult for my class as we have unexpectedly lost two sweet members, Mary Lou and Penny, one to a tragic boating accident and the other to the passage of time. As I read the flurry of e-mails between my classmates I found myself remembering them as teenagers and later in life as the wonderful women they became, wives and mothers. Mary Lou and Penny will continue in the stories that we will tell the next reunion and in the quiet reflections that each of us will have as we continue to live our busy lives.
Even the private, one on memories; that quiet conversation during a “slow dance” at a sock hop or that fleeting glance and shared smile as you each sat in your circle of friends in the cafeteria live on. I still see those 17 year old eyes glittering in a flash of sunlight and that slight upturn of the corner of the lips that said, “I see you too, my friend.” Oh MY!