Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Where It All Began

Many cultures have an oral tradition of passing their history through music and narrative storytelling. The younger generation would gather by the fire to hear the tribe's bard or shaman recount tales of battle, leadership and love. This was how history was taught, the younger learning from the elder.

This is how I was taught, too. But my tribal fire was a stool in my grandparents' living room and my bard was my nanny.

My earliest memories are ones of sitting on an old stool beside Nanny's knitting chair. I would watch her needles fly and the ash on her cigarette grow dangerously long as she told story after story of her life in war-time England, her voyage across the ocean with my infant aunt and her new life in Canada as a wife and mother (of nine children).

Often times she would tell the same stories over and over and when I was younger I thought she did that because she was old and her memory was failing. But as I matured I realised that the stories she repeated often were the ones she wanted me to remember, the incidents that shaped her, changed her. She wanted those moments remembered.

She had a brilliant way of describing things, of painting a picture for my young imagination to grab hold of, so that I felt as if I was right there with her on the streets of London, teasing the guards at Buckingham Palace or racing down the street to make sure my family had survived the bombing in my neighborhood or holding my infant daughter in my arms watching my mother grow smaller and smaller on the dock as my ship left port, carrying me away to my new life in Canada.

The hours I spent at her knee, hearing the adventures of her life are the greatest inheritance I could ever ask for. I learned more than just the history of her life in those stories. I learned about spunk and wit and courage. I learned how to survive heartache, how to live on hope and how to embrace adventure.I learned that love and loyalty are more valuable than money, that family is family even if an ocean separates you from your loved ones and I learned that hard fought love is the hardiest.

So if I can spin a good yarn, if you appreciate my wit and candor, know that its not me, really. All that I am as a writer, a storyteller, and much of who I am as a person, comes from her, my Nanny...Doris Telfer Kirton.

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