By Linda Goodman
First, they preserve family heritage. Family gatherings produce treasure troves of stories to be passed along from generation to generation. When my family gets together, storytelling is the main event. These stories make me feel like I intimately know relatives that I never met. They also show me different sides of relatives that I thought I knew well.
Second, they are powerful teaching tools. Though I studied the great depression in school, none of the facts recorded in my history books bought home the devastating realities of that period in our country’s history like my father’s stories of survival during that time. His tales of hopping freight trains, standing in soup lines, and working for the CCC made me feel like I was there.
Third, they interpret events. In my story The Punishment, my father takes me into a back room at my mother’s request and administers a fake whipping. For years, I wondered why he did that. As I put the pieces of the story together, I realized that he may have intentionally engineered a scenario to evoke the compassionate side of my mother. This interpretation of events, and the resulting bond of respect and love that developed between my mother and me, is the focus of my story.
Fourth, they nurture community, and this can be bad as well as good. German Nazi stories about atrocities supposedly committed by Jews helped create a community of hate that advocated genocide. Stories about racist atrocities committed in the segregated south helped create a community of shame that lead to the passage of the Civil Rights in 1964. Recently, stories told by those suffering the consequences of lacking health insurance moved me to become a part of a community that advocates for universal healthcare.
Fifth, they possess remarkable healing powers. When my mother died suddenly in 1989, my grief was compounded by the fact that I had not apologized for an argument that we had just before she passed away. A grief therapist suggested that I use my storytelling skills to speed my healing. I wrote The Bobby Pins, a story about a simple birthday present that I had given my mother when I was a child. That story made me realize that my mother knew that I loved her. Our argument was just one moment among many in our relationship.
Sixth, they inspire listeners to become storytellers. People who listen to personal tales are reminded of similar events in their own lives. Indeed, listening to Linda Marchisio tell her personal stories at the first annual Tellabration!™ in 1988 moved me to begin sharing my own.
Personal and family stories are inspirational, soothing, and infectious. They can both illuminate the beauty and expose the beast among us. They give us an unequaled opportunity to examine who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. Through them, we can effect changes in both ourselves and the world.
About Linda Goodman
Author/Storyteller/Playwright Linda Goodman, an Appalachian Mountain native of Melungeon descent, draws on her roots to create a magic world where fantasy and ordinary heroes come together to both entertain and inspire. She also tells traditional tales using a wide array of voices to make characters come to life.
She has performed nationwide at festivals, schools, and conferences and has been published in the Chicken Soup and Stories for the Heart Series. Her one-woman show and book, Daughters of the Appalachians, is available through Overmountain Press and Amazon.com. It has also been performed by theater companies in California, Massachusetts, and Virginia.