Telling tales about each other connects families through the generations.
Everyone loves a spider story. Like the time when my 10-year-old daughter put her foot into her school shoe and a huntsman ran up her leg.
My young granddaughters love this story because the girl in the story is their mother. Every time they hear it, they squeal, ask how big the spider was and want to know did mummy scream or cry?
Another favourite story is the time their mummy and Auntie Lisa were playing hide and seek in the dark and Auntie Lisa, hiding in the corner of the room, put her hand on a huge spider on the wall.
“And tell us about when Auntie Sammie got bitten by the bull ant,” they ask, eyes bright with anticipation for the part when Sammie gets off her bike to have a drink of water and the ant crawls up her boot. I hasten to add that not all our family stories involve arachnids or insects.
It was interesting to watch our granddaughters starting to grasp the concept of their family tree. I remember well when our oldest granddaughter informed us that she knew who we were. We were her mummy’s mum and dad. She was clearly uncertain about this for a while, though, because mums and dads in her experience were not old like us.
Our granddaughters love hearing stories about my husband and me when we were little, too. They laugh heartily at the idea of their grandfather, when he was a toddler, being dressed up like a baby by his big sister and wheeled around in her doll’s pram. But apart from apparently being hilarious, this story connects the branches of the family tree for them; their grandfather’s big sister is their Great-Auntie Barb. And when I tell stories about my childhood, they understand who my mum and dad are — their Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa, who always give them chocolates from the pottery bowl on their kitchen dresser when they visit.
As well as being entertaining, sharing family history is a privilege. Knowing our history provides a sense of belonging, an understanding of where we fit. Relating stories of our various family members to our grandchildren connects them to many generations — their mother, her parents, her parents’ parents.
The connections go even further. Just as my grandchildren know about my childhood, I know about my parents’ lives and their early years growing up in the 1930s. I also knew my grandparents —their great-great grandparents — and stories of their lives. Some are fascinating, such as how my grandfather, as a young sailor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1912, saw the recovered dead from the Titanic being brought to land.
The passing down of knowledge is an ancient practice, occurring in all cultures. It is how, in biblical times, God’s teachings were passed on from generation to generation.
Over the years, as we have told our family stories and shared our faith, first to our daughters and now to our granddaughters, my prayer comes from a psalm in the Bible, written centuries ago. “I will tell the children about your power, Lord, I will tell those who will live after me about your might” (Psalm 71, verse 18).