When I was a little girl, I had a diary with a lock and key.
The hardest part was keeping up with the key since I did not want my brother seeing my deepest, private thoughts. He grew up to be an amazing brother but at the time, he was a bit ruthless (as brothers generally are).
Nowadays, people are really into journaling and bullet-journaling. I love the way they look, but my creativity only runs through words. I can’t doodle or draw – my cats (the only thing I can “draw”) end up looking like odd snowmen with ears, whiskers, a bellybutton, and a tail.
But I am a storyteller; it’s in my genes. I can’t just tell you what happened. I add a description and extra words and possibly information you don’t even need. I am inspired and encouraged by stories I read and hear.
And some of my favorites stories come from my great-grandfather’s journal.
My great-grandfather was a Navy doctor in the late 1800s to early 1900s. I have one of his journals from 1892-1893 when he was aboard the USS Kearsarge. This man could tell a story! In short snippets of diary entries, he paints amazing pictures of life on board ship in the late 1800s.
The entries begin in November 1892 when the ship was headed for Ciudad Bolivar to help a U.S. citizen who claimed to “suffer damages” from the Venezuelan government. The Kearsarge’s captain was tasked with keeping the peace and smoothing feathers. Thank goodness, the situation was “defused and congenial relations were established.”
Great-grandfather’s journal was full of details.
The ship steamed on to Trinidad where the sailors celebrated Thanksgiving with turkey and geese:
“Passed along the southern coast of the island…. A large coconut plantation, a brigantine at anchor, rocky islets crowned with verdure, steep cliffs undermined in parts, huge caves into which the waves washed, white houses…. Thanksgiving Day. A more propitious day could not exist than the day as we passed it. Calm, clear, sunny and beautiful day at sea…. All onboard have special dinner – turkey, etc.…. Beautiful sunset and zodiacal light.”
Some entries were simple notes of how he spent his day reading, writing letters, or playing music.
When he had to attend to an accident on the American Barkentine Formosa, he provided detailed information on how each injured man was treated. You can “hear” the sadness in his words when he realized one of the men could not live: “I worked almost constantly until evening, and during the night had three watches for the three nurses. I gave orders to be called without delay…I slept very little, visiting patients about every hour. Robertson required much attention. Pain relieved by means of opium and hot fomentations. In the morning all patients better excepting Robertson, whose case was very serious from the first. In the morning I told the Captain that Robertson could not live…. During the day I expected the man’s death, which occurred at 5:40 P.M.”
I love his stories, but I have stories to tell too.
Most of mine revolve around times my husband was at sea. That seemed to always trigger a flood of odd occurrences. Some of the things I dealt with include:
a rat in our laundry room,
the adoption of a stray cat,
our oldest getting scratched under her eye by the cat (a different one, since we are cat hoarders) and being in the hospital for 5 days,
our firstborn child coming six weeks early,
our oldest two kids having chickenpox back-to-back,
an opossum who took up residence in our garage,
my oldest son’s expedition to “alligator heaven” where he cut his foot and managed to get severe poison ivy.
And the list goes on!
Some memories are bad, but most are good and even funny now that time has passed. I think telling our story is how we not only share our lives but also how we process life. Working out the details, remembering the flaws, successes, and triumphs – that’s what storytelling does.
My mother-in-law lives with us now, and she suffers from dementia. She writes in simple composition notebooks, detailing her life that she remembers. Those old memories stick with her, and she wants to share them, especially with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s a way to pass on her life and her memories while she can, and all of it is important.
One of my favorite storytellers, Maya Angelou, explained it like this:
Our stories come from our lives and from the playwright’s pen, the mind of the actor, the roles we create, the artistry of life itself and the quest for peace.
It’s possible that your words will encourage someone, inspire them to make a difference, or just bring a smile to their face.
So, what’s your story? I want to hear it!