Our last month of story circles has included trail mix, raspberries stuffed with chocolate chips, popcorn and pretzels, and a Dove chocolate or two. Not all at once, just as we haven't discussed more than one topic at once.
There have been talks of trains, rain, mailboxes, and birds.
Every time we get the candle out in preparation for our story circle, Sailor starts saying "ice cream" over and over. I like to think that first gathering was unforgettable.
I've noticed that Story's stories sound an awfully lot like Cash's. And that she can outstory the rest of us any day.
All the rain stories were negative, from the night Cash remembers it raining really hard and seeing a tree in our front yard about to fall down, to half of Story's birthday party getting rained out, to TJ's difficult task of dealing with the flooding in our basement in Naperville, to my more recent memories of rain on date nights and being soaked at Spill the Beans when we went there for ice cream. Story said the garden beds were "all pouring and scraped up" and Bauer said Gigi told him a long time ago that the rain sounded like motorcycles and trucks.
Is rain as bad as all that?
In her book Plan B, Anne Lamott gives a brilliant insight that I try to remember when it rains:
I got out of the car and walked toward the crowd. The grass was wet and my shoes got wet, but I'd forgotten: You can get wet, it's okay.
The details of some stories are so catching. The night we talked about trains, Bauer told us the longest train he had ever seen was 106 cars in Mansfield, MO, when we went there for Spring Break in 2013 to visit the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you know Bauer, you will know that number story can be trusted.
On mailbox night, Cash retrieved the memory of the day we went to get our mail and saw a stranger with a dog lying in the grass across the street from our driveway. Please don't miss the crucial detail that it was the stranger, not the dog, lying in the grass. Cash remembers the fear and uncertainty - Why is this man lying there? Is he hurt? Do we recognize him?
We certainly recognize Mr. Gary now when we see him. He lives down the road from us and enjoys taking his dog Bella for walks, but sometimes he gets tired and needs to rest.
I allowed Cash to pick our story circle topic this past weekend and he landed on birds. There were bits and pieces about hawks, snakes, robins, and nests. But the story that emerged from the place memories hide was a delightful remembering of something that wasn't so delightful at the time. I opened the back door to put some trash outside, and a bird flew into our house in Naperville and alighted on the bookshelf in our living room. It landed right next to a little bird figurine on the shelf, looking for a friend I guess.
The kids remembered that TJ wasn't home and that I took a kitchen towel and tried to shoo the bird away. I do remember feeling panicked and needing TJ to be home. I don't remember the bird's exact exit route, but somehow, thankfully, it wasn't long before the fellow was gone. The memory was soon gone, too, but the story circle gave us the bird back.
Story circles are not earth-shattering. They are not showy or overly reflective, most times. They are simple and cheap and rather noisy. And yes, some nights they are mundane. Nobody can think of a good story to share, or everyone is a little too wound up after dinner, or the kids keep asking for seconds on snacks. Didn't we just have dinner twenty minutes ago?
Nonetheless, we parade on. We light our candle and set it in the middle. We take turns talking. We run through the files in our brains trying to make connections to the topic at hand. We listen to the same stories from last time, spun in a different way, or we wonder if somebody's story is even true. We finish our snacks and try to sit contentedly.
We circle back around to those eager to tell more stories. We go get water. We wait for the day when Sailor can tell us her stories. And all of this we do each Sunday night because to make space for story and to give voice to our remembering is to acknowledge that we were alive together when that long train went past or when Mr. Gary was lying in the grass or when that bird landed on the bookshelf. We tie the loose ends of our disparate lives together into a beautiful family by the memories we make and by the memories we share.
And then just like last week, we try to remember whose turn it is to blow out the candle.