My both grandmothers were excellent storytellers… And my illiterate great-grandma as well!
As a child I just loved to listen to their fascinating stories about people and places. In my late twenties, early thirties luckily I came to realize what an enormous treasure chest their oral tradition was and started to make notes. It also changed the way I listened to those stories: started to feel responsible for memorizing and preserving those family stories. I knew none of my cousins were ever interested in even listening to those “old people ramblings”… so it was entirely up to me to carry on with the tradition. The vivid stories told by the grandmas took me back (and this was the university educated literary man’s internal comment to the tales) to people and events happened more than 100 years before my birth.
Later I have had a similar encounter with living oral tradition while working as a humanitarian in Chechnya: my bodyguard, the age of my own son, related about the expulsion of their people and their settlement in Turkey… which happened, probably, during the Caucasian War.
Thinking back today I have to say the most captivating feature of these storytellers – both in my family and in Chechnya – was the ability to talk as an eyewitness. All the stories sounded as if they were present at the events of times long gone.
A while ago I decided to embark on an experiment that might take years. It was sparked by a few (the very few) Canadian friends listening to my occasional relating of adventures in my various jobs. “Why don’t you write down all these stories?” – they kept saying. I don’t know. My English is not good enough. Except for resumés, I’ve never written anything in English. I am afraid to write in English. Of course, I can be very inventive when it comes to finding excuses to avoid work, however the seed ——
[you see, I know there must be a saying referring to the moment when the planted seed starts to transform into a new life, when that little tip of the new plant pops out from the seed under the ground; since this is a general knowledge of the ancient agrarian societies, I am sure every language has, must have a saying that by analogy refers to how an idea, a new thought in your head starts its own new life; I just effing cannot recall the proper English idiom for this situation; and this frustrates me big time when it comes to my attempts to write something in English; therefore I have to decide between going further with the writing and finish the sentence I started above or stop writing and go to search on the internet and dictionaries for the right expression; in the latter case I’d lose my “train of thoughts” although I’d discover many interesting, unrelated, beautiful and useless idioms of the spoken English]
——– anyway, the bug has been planted in my head, so to speak, and I started to write down all kind of stories from my previous life. (I like to refer to the years before my immigration to Canada, as my “previous life”). Not as a memoir, going through my life as a straight line from my birth till whatever point I will have to stop at. Rather like random stories I’ve heard or experienced and were told so many times that they already became extremely well rounded, compact short stories of a kind.
I am still very reluctant to show those texts: only a handful people had the chance to read them. They all encouraged me to continue – though they might as well be just too polite to tell me to stop. So I am still writing. And now I am telling about it publicly the first time. Who knows, maybe one day I will even put up here a teaser.
Unfortunately, great-grandma died when I was only twelve. In the picture on left: my great-grandmother around 1935 with her grandchildren; the oldest on the right is my mother…