Tell Stories About Me

Several times a year friends and I attend an art retreat hosted by Connie Rohde, owner of the C Gallery in Los Alamos. We gather and greet, and enjoy Connie’s latest culinary creativity that combines simplicity and elegance in a relaxed outdoor courtyard entwined with poetry and conversation. We fuss over the latest delectable savory tart while she reminisces of growing up in the kitchen, and around the dinner table, with a Jewish mother who also loved to cook. One of Edna’s parting wishes to her family was, “Tell stories about me.”

At a gathering recently, we were invited to tell a story or two about one of our grandparents – a lovely segue into telling stories about family members who had influenced our lives and faith. Frank, entering his ninth decade, told how his Depression era family taught him to cuss as a kid. They perpetually regarded him as trouble, but an uncle, a man of deep faith who believed in him, would shake his head behind their backs and say, “You’re a good boy.”

His wife, also entering her ninth decade, grew up in a very different family. Abiding faith was an ever present family characteristic. In her early twenties, Betty ventured to Venezuela to teach for a year.  During a flight over Angel Falls, the tallest waterfall in the world, the plane went into a spiraling dive, flying so close to the falls that water splashed on the plane’s windshield. She related how the passengers alternated between praying and taking pictures during the plane’s dizzying descent toward earth. Eventually, the pilot regained control of the plane and they returned safely to Caracus. (He and his plane crashed at Angel Falls exactly a month later.) I could understand the passengers praying, but why take pictures? She offered nonchalantly, “It helped pass the time.” 

Another Frank, my maternal grandfather, came to California in the early years of the 20th century to attend medical school, a vocation he subsequently chose not to pursue when photography captured his imagination. As a young man he helped transport the 60″ Mt Wilson telescope up the San Gabriel Mountains, taking photos all the way, where it was installed as the world’s largest telescope at the time. Eventually, he purchased the camera store that bore his name until about 2004 when the current owners closed the business for good. (It was the second oldest, continuous business in Pasadena at the time.) In the early 50s the camera shop’s darkroom was a building attached to the garage behind the family home. All tongue and groove panelling, and smelling of exotic chemicals poured out in enamel trays, my brother and I would venture with Grandpa Reed out to the darkroom where he would regale us with hilarious stories of the Midwest in a “Scandahoovian” accent.  Ordinarily my grandparent’s home was a place of staid quietness, but Grandpa’s darkroom and his workshop next door were places of playfulness and creativity, places I felt expectantly at home.

An old story of a beloved neighbor across the street came to mind recently when another friend blogged about the excuses cops hear when they stop drivers for traffic violations. Darrell was driving in an unfamilar area when he inadvertinently turn the wrong way on a one way street. Pulled over, the frustrated policeman asked, “Didn’t you see the arrows?” to which Darrell earnestly replied, “Gosh, officer, I didn’t even see the Indians!” The officer walked back to his patrol car laughing. No ticket.

Shared by his pastor. this was the final story told at Darrell’s memorial service several years ago. Naturally, because this vintage story so captured the essence of Darrell’s life and his ever present sense of humor, it brought the house down with laughter. A fitting end to a life story worth telling.

What tender or quirky stories would you tell about family or friends who have enriched your life with their stories? What stories would you like people to tell about you? If you were to take a group photo of people who have influenced your life and faith, who would appear in that photo?

Looking forward to your stories!

PS – The dapper photo above is my grandfather, Frank W Reed, waiting to board a train for San Diego and his honeymoon at the Hotel Del Coronado in 1907. 



4 comments to Tell Stories About Me

  • deanna j bowling

    We celebrated my house mate’s 75th birthday last night. Her sons and her sister did a great job of providing an atmosphere wherein all of us could share our love for Dede, and tell stories about her love for God and all of His creations.

  • Dana Thompson

    Your stories brought to mind the ones my mother and her sister shared about their other sister, my aunt Sally. Her escapades, like the time she backed up the on ramp to the freeway and was met by a policeman, were always explained by “I’ll never do that again.” At her funeral, my cousin told many of the stories to everyone’s entertainment, and he ended by saying that they were putting the phrase “I’ll never do that again” on her grave.

  • Sara Blackburn

    My grandma Dorothy (who I called Grandma Doe-Doe) was the one in my life who always encouraged me to just be me. No matter how much a fit I was in or how frustrated or upset I was at a situation or person, she would always hold me close to her pillowy body, stroke my hair and tell me to just be me. She would tell me that I could do anything I wanted to do, be anything I wanted to be and go anywhere I wanted to go. She also always knew exactly what gifts to give for Christmas and birthdays… and she lavished us at those times. She was my greatest source of encouragement all throughout my early childhood. When brain tumors took her life when I was 12, my world crumbled. I couldn’t see how I could survive without her encouraging words and perfect gifts.
    Now, 21 years later, her words come back to me time and time again. I can see her smile, hear her voice and feel her touch in my memories. It gives me strength. Those memories inspire me to be that kind of influence in the lives of the kids with whom I work. They are amazing and I worry that they do not have a Grandma Doe-Doe to inspire them. I want to be that. I want her to live on through my work.

  • Trudi

    Those art friends of mine know in detail the story of my doing art in a lovely taupe bed against the wishes of my husband and the unfortunate consequences. I won’t go into details here but it involves black paint, nudity, seduction, tears and laughter. All the elements of life. It is a story that so captures my relationship with my Louie. One that even though it shows a side of me that is not particularly complementary captures how we as a couple relate and accept each other for who we are. I would like that story told about me.

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