One of the things I enjoy doing each summer is making jam. There is something quite satisfying about taking bits of fruit and creating little glass jars of brilliantly colored goodness to enjoy on biscuits and bread in the middle of winter.
I had good reason to make jam this past weekend as I picked up the most fantastic tasting peaches ever eaten on Friday from the Kiwanis Club of Rome. (The peaches were sweeter as proceeds fund local scholarships.) By Sunday afternoon, many of the peaches needed to be “managed” and, since my family loves peach jam, the order of the day was to put up that goodness for future enjoyment.
While I personally don’t find it difficult to make jam, I will admit that it can be a very tiring chore. It requires washing, peeling, and dicing fruit, measuring sugar, and boiling jars. You have to stick with it once you have started but I find that when I look at jam making as a joy, there can be an almost meditative quality that emerges from the hot work of stirring sugar and watching as it melts to make the liquid gold of peach jam.
I will also admit that, as enjoyable as it can be, it can also feel a bit overwhelming if you are faced with a mass of fruit and not a lot of help. But not so this past Sunday, when I was joined in the endeavor by my mom and daughters. Though it may have been a bit warm in the kitchen from the stove, it was also warm with love and was made fun most of all because my girls wanted to hear stories.
They wanted to hear stories that they have certainly heard before — stories of memories and mischief, of sadness and joy. They peppered me with questions. “How did you and Daddy meet?”; “When you met Daddy, was it love at first sight?”; “When did you know you would marry each other?”; “What did you enjoy the most about being a kid?”; “What was the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you?”
I’m not sure why they felt a need to ask all the questions this day but their questions also gave me a chance to ask questions of them as well. “What was your most embarrassing moment?”; “Do you believe in love at first sight?”; “What was your favorite memory from the camping trip we took that cold spring?” There were smiles and laughter and it was an afternoon I hope always stays in my mind.
We are lucky to have had other afternoons like this in our family. In fact, storytelling is a regular activity when we visit my husband’s family each summer. It is as if the aunts and uncles and Grammy compete to see who can recall the best memory and spin it in the most entertaining way.
My husband’s family are excellent storytellers, for their stories are peppered with interesting commentary and a cadence instead of the matter-of-fact retelling that I lean toward. It is grand fun to hear about Dad’s long bike ride that ended in a ditch, with a neighbor bringing him safely home; of pranks between siblings; and of the great food fight rebellion from one too many summer squash casseroles.
There is something special about stories. I think most of us love a good story because it takes the focus off us and brings us into a different place and time. We often search for meanings in the stories or recall emotions that touch our hearts.
Stories remind children that parents and adults are not so different from them. They learn that — as old as we may now be — we made mistakes, got embarrassed, got in trouble, had fun ... and survived to tell the tale. While most of our storytelling is of happy times, there are times when we have shared our own personal stories of not-so-happy times, to hopefully share a lesson learned and demonstrate that life goes on in spite of the bumps and bruises along the way.
As stated earlier, I do not consider myself to be a good storyteller, so it is a bit strange to me that my children seek out my memories and stories (for which I am most grateful). I suspect they ask because it is a way to know their mother. Like them, I enjoyed hearing stories as a child from my mom and grandmother. How lucky we are as children to have stories!
If you think you aren’t a good storyteller, think again and do try. You can create a storytelling experience for your family by simply visiting your photo album. Bring a favorite picture of some long-ago trip to the table and talk about it. You can also ask simple questions as well to stir stories in others. “What was the favorite thing you did on your favorite day ever?”; “What was the worst meal you ever made?”; “What was your favorite class in school and why?” You’ll be surprised how thinking about those past moments triggers other memories and before you know it, you too will have made 20 jars of jam.
Speaking of those jars — I suppose they now have the power to bring forth stories. When we open that peach jam that sits in the pantry, we shall taste and recall that time we spent an afternoon in a kitchen on a hot summer day slicing and dicing not only peaches but memories.