We expect our lives to turn out like the stories we hear.
Jerrie Hurd has published three novels (Pocket Books) and numerous short stories and essays. She is close to completing DEEP DIRT: Adventures in Digging Up Family Stories and is working on a series of mysteries. The first mystery, RAINBOW HORSES is also nearly complete.
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Why Family Stories?
“Pay Attention to the fairy godmother” is my current motto. It’s a twist on Cinderella. When my grandmother got to the end of that classic tale, she always paused and added, “We like the prince. There’s nothing nicer than a fine, handsome prince, but you need to pay attention to the fairy godmother. She’s the one who got things done.”
I amused myself thinking she meant women, like herself, older and largely unappreciated. I thought good for her, we all need to get a dig in whenever we can. I’ve since changed my mind. I think “pay attention to the fairy godmother” means notice how your family tells their stories. Turn those tales inside out, the way grandma did, and really look at what they’re saying, because, more than likely, your life has been shaped by the stories you heard.
Who knew? I didn’t. I thought I was living my life, my way. I’d left home when I was nineteen, and I’ve never lived closer than a thousand miles since. I was my own woman making my own decisions, too busy–far too busy–to wonder why I thought a thousand miles insulated me from stories I’d heard a thousand times. Truth is, most of us shrug off the family stories, not only because they’re just stories, but because they’re the same old stories. We think we know them until we ask: Why that story? Why that story told that way?
Unless we pause to ask those questions, we may find ourselves trying to live the story we’ve always heard. In my family we tell great love stories. Listen long enough and you might spend your whole life waiting to be swept off your feet.
Stories get better with time. Families exaggerate because they want the stories to be remembered. Pay attention. The whoppers contain clues as to what the family thinks is important. George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree; never said “I cannot tell a lie.” So why, as an American family, do we keep telling that story? When we stop telling it, what has changed?
Stories have voices. If all our stories are about hardship, we may not be able to hear good news. If our stories are about old hurts, we feel a duty to right old wrongs. Old hatreds are passed along the same way.
Stories are slogans. “In our family we ___________” is a sentence most of us can complete. Question is, who decides how to fill in that blank?
If you come from a family of war heroes, does it become unthinkable to not put on a uniform? If you come from a family that goes to college, is becoming a plumber an option or a failure?
Giving a new twist to an old story can make a huge difference. Have you examined your family stories lately?Read More
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