I am sitting in my living room. Across from me is the bookshelf where Laura and I keep our treasures. If the two of us were ever guilty of anything it would be that we are packrats of books. She has been trying to convince me that we need to downsize, but I find it hard to part with even the silliest of paperbacks that I read many years ago and hadn’t touched since.
Amongst the herd of books sits a really old, chunky book with a leather cover the color of burgundy. In gold lettering down the binding is written, “The Complete Hans Christian Andersen Fairytales”. To me, it is more than an old relic, however … it is a reminder of where my journey as a reader and perhaps even a writer began.
When we were children(and by we, I mean my older sister and younger brother–before my little sister appeared, during what we called the golden age of Pre-Meagan) we would huddle together and listen as my mom read to us from this massive book. I would peer over my mom’s arm and try to follow along, but couldn’t for the life of me decipher the strange shapes.
It’s odd how I never remember the endings of the stories, but I can never forget how they all began. Mostly it involved my mom running her fingers up and down my back, her soft voice reciting the words that I longed to understand. Even now it seems like magic.
But that’s what storytelling is. It’s a tradition of magic that we pass down the line with a delicate ritual that involves snuggling and blankets and dimly lit rooms. It’s the books we hold onto for all of life as if they are sacred grimoires.
Storytelling is a family tradition for the McVeys especially. I think I learned more about turning a tale from them as I grew up than I had from any book. It shouldn’t surprise me, given the vast history of the Irish and stories.
My Grandpa and Grandma McVey had a large, circular table in their home when I was little. Big and wooden, it lived in their dining room where it collected minute scratches from countless games of euchre and spoons over the decades. We’d all get together and huddle around it for holiday meals, all of us grandkids vying for a spot by Grandma, because she told the best stories.
It isn’t just the stories she tells that are fantastic–though they are–it’s how she tells them. The words she uses and how she uses them, the inflection of her voice and subtle movements she makes. She makes storytelling appear more magical than a book ever could.
And when Grandma told me stories at the table as a child, it was like a little secret she was sharing with me, and me alone … as if she would never tell the same story to another soul. She’d lean down and practically whisper it in your ear. There was no better person to learn the art of storytelling from than Grandma McVey. Even today she’ll bend anybody’s ear that has a moment to spare, and none could resist or ever regret it.
I remember–as a child–sitting in the living room of my Grandparents’ house, playing Gameboy as the adults sat around that big table. They traded stories back and forth and shook the walls with laughter. I was like a little criminal–sitting there, listening in as if I were planning heist.
In the end, however, I stole nothing. There was no quick getaway with the red and blue lights of police cars igniting the night in their hot pursuit. I may not have come out of it with a burlap sack with a giant, green dollar sign printed on its side, but I ended up with a greater treasure than that.
I have been blessed with a family tradition steeped in stories. With it comes a great appreciation for storytelling and the magic that lurks within it. And now we continue this tradition, telling the next generation stories both big and small.