It was 1969 when my sister and I decided to hitchhike our way across Canada to Vancouver Island. A man named Andy, who was traveling from Toronto to Edmonton, picked us up in Minneapolis. His plans had been to travel across the United States, but we talked him into going back up across Canada. Celeste, was a great storyteller and as the miles went on and as we picked up additional hitchhikers, she told her stories to each one.
By the time we arrived in Edmonton, we had eight people with all our gear packed into a big old hot station wagon. We were on each other’s nerves and were sick of Celeste’s stories, especially the ones she had repeated for each of the new arrivals. Celeste had always been my hero, but for each story re-telling, her Goddessness began to slip away.
Celeste was the oldest of us eight children and was an avid reader. Her mind was so full of the places she had read about, that she would re-enact them with us, her younger siblings. Our playtime was colorful and exciting as we made tree forts, crushed up jellyfish for strange concoctions, and hunted imaginary animals. She had a gentle spirit and we idolized her; a game was never a complete without her. As we got older, I noticed that she would get us involved and then quietly slip away; later to be found buried in another book. We would harry her until she returned, but eventually she would silently disappear.
So that’s the way it was that summer, the Goddess and I hitchhiking across Canada. I had lived alone in Oregon for a while, yet in spite of my own independence, I could not and would not have dreamed of doing something this outrageous without her. Several times before, Celeste had bravely traveled alone across the county; it was high adventure for her.
That trip across Canada was my only great adventure, with Celeste sitting in the back seat, wedged between two young men. Their mouths hung open, listening to every story she told. For Andy and the rest of us who had heard them before, we crossed our eyes and said quietly, “Ugh, not that story again!”
A few years ago my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers. She too had the gift of being a great storyteller. During the early stages of her disease, she sometimes was confused as to the intent of a gathering of people. What she understood was that it was a good time to spin her storytelling magic. This time, however, the family was gathered together for a funeral. My mother, not comprehending the gravity of the situation, walked around telling a joke about the Episcopalians (emphasis on piss) to the mourners.
Later that same day, Celeste started sharing her own stories, some new and some old. On the way home, I told my daughter some mine of when I was a child. My daughter looked at me as though she was thinking, “I heard that story a million times before, mom, and your Goddessness is slipping…no…has slipped away.”
It struck me how easily we as storytellers could annoy others with whom we were trying to share by repeating stories over and over. If I did not want to see that look…that…“I’m going into a coma if I have to hear this again” look, I was going to have to make some changes. That’s when I began to write.
I knew I could not stop spinning yarns; it was a family thing. Perhaps I could have a little more control over the effects repetition had on people.
My mother has passed away now and I wish I had written some of her tales down. Goddess Celeste is still a great storyteller; she’s still braver then I am. I only hear her stories once in a while and still love hearing them, even if she does repeat them.
As for myself, I have a dilemma…when do I quit talking. Telling a story is so much fun; I get to read the other person’s face. I would miss their reaction if I could only write and never orate. This is the deal…even if I have told a tale many times and you have heard it or read it before, if you like it and you don’t tell me that I bore you, I will gladly tell it again.
PS: I have retold this tale many times)