Once upon a time, I was given a gift. There was nothing to unwrap, nothing tangible at all, and I probably wasn’t aware that I had received anything at the time. I have no clear recollection of when I recognized its value, except that I was very young.
However, I had just received the gift of story.
Story takes many forms. It may be what we tell ourselves or what we learn about others. Most stories are important because they contain small details about everyday life and thus they permit us to stay connected with others.
Slightly more than two years ago my last relative from the French side of my family died in Paris, on April 15, 2011. He was 91. I was determined to write about him, hoping to keep alive what he had done and said. I couldn’t. I would break into tears and the entire endeavor became a waste of time.
He was a great-uncle by marriage, not part of my direct family line, but he had kept everyones’ stories alive for all of us. Born toward the end of World War I he had listened to stories from his family, about what life was like for them during that time. He survived World War II in France. Within the context of our extended and fragmented family (cousins twice removed, second wives, distant great-nieces and great-nephews, and all that) somehow he had known most of them. When I visited him, I began to pay closer attention. There would come a day when he wouldn’t be there with me to share, what it was like, all those many small personal details of everyday, lived in another time. Some of my distant relatives, even those with whom I shared DNA, I had never met, but he helped bring them back to life.
In an upcoming story, “The Day of the General,” I’ll share bits of a story of nearly four year old Camille Mauriat, daughter of a Protestant minister, the day a German general visited their home and how one small event—not a major or violent event by war story standards—changed one family’s life forever. The nearby city of Lyon had just fallen to Hitler’s Army, that May of 1941. General Kurt-Griebel Heinrich Von Strauchen, who drives down a country lane toward this family’s home, is seeking refreshment on a warm day of late spring. The little girl Camille finds the glittering embroidery and shiny metals of one of Hitler’s elite enchanting. What child brought up in a stern Calvinist household would not?
There is always “another view” of war. Join me as we follow these stories, with their connections to special people, what makes up more than any family’s direct blood lines.
As humans, we are creatures of story and narrative. Gathered around the first fires that kept wild animals away and fellow humans near, we started recounting our history: “Once upon a time….”
Interspersed with segments about characters from my upcoming book, Another View, The Writers’ Table blog will continue its review of the compelling power of fiction to illustrate any story.
Michaele, from The Writers’ Table