Clemson

Tall tales brim with warmth, power

It has been an interesting start to the new year. Not a flake of snow, but we have had boatloads of rain and even a tornado, and possibly, by the publication date of this article, maybe some snow. It has been a wild ride.

It weirdly reminds me of that story that all old people tell young kids when kids start complaining. It begins with that famous line, “When I was your age, I had to walk to school in a foot of snow uphill both ways.”

However, in my grandpa’s case, it always began, “When I was a kid, we didn’t have snow days.”

I never in my wildest dreams thought that a version of this story might actually be true because I had seen the pictures of snow piled high enough to be halfway up the barn doors. I had heard about my grandparents stringing a rope to the barn and holding onto it to make sure they could get to the milk house in the winter due to all the snow.

First, let me be honest, when my grandfather was alive and he would tell these stories, I always figured that the majority of the story had to be false. If you knew my grandpa and spoke with him for any length of time, you would realize that he was a storytelling treasure trove.

As a young girl I can remember sitting in their living room playing Old Maid or rummy in the evenings, and Grandpa regaling Grandma and I with tales of his younger days. Some days, it would be old stories about his hunting triumphs, other days it would be the mischievous hijinks he and his friends pulled with Grandma, sharing her moments of shenanigans.

One particular night stands out as I write this, and I will share it with you since it seems appropriate for this weather.

It was a spring evening and I was at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a few hours in the evening. To this day, I am not sure why I was there, but we had eaten dinner and were settling in with a game of Old Maid. Suddenly, the sky turned black, the wind started to blow and the rain began pelting the house and the newly planted fields.

We began to play cards, not really paying attention to the storm outside. Grandpa was talking about how Mosquito Creek, before the lake was put in, used to flood when it would rain hard. He told some amusing stories about his siblings’ antics in the mud and his mother’s displeasure, which had Grandma and I laughing hysterically.

However, it wasn’t until he looked outside and saw the rivers of water running down the newly planted fields that we realized he was truly worried. This worry was masked by the next story he told about how thunder was made.

His story, that God rolled giant barrels around up in heaven to create thunder, intrigued my mind and distracted me from the seriousness of the moment. I think that it was in that instant that I learned the power of a story. I learned that stories could turn something terrible into a momentary break that allowed a person to reset and re-evaluate the moment.

Life, though, sometimes has a way of making you forget the power of a story.

It was not until my grandpa’s health was failing in the nursing home that I remembered the power of story. That night, while everyone was asleep, I sat up with him, reciting all the stories I could remember from my childhood. I spoke about his hunting days — the fox hunts, the rabbit hunts, the raccoon hunts, the hunts for arrowheads — fishing in the pond, berry picking trips, days at the Bloomfield auction and any story I could remember. He never acknowledged that he heard me, but somehow I felt he did.

It was not until months after he passed away that someone showed me a photo of a bunch of teenagers, dressed warmly, sitting on a wagon, in the middle of winter with at least two feet of snow on the ground. Written on the back, in a beautiful cursive scrawl, was the sentence, “Joe Letwen and friends heading to school their favorite way.”

My grandpa’s stories had been true!

So as we begin a new year I make this challenge to you: Make this a year that tells a beautiful story about your life.

Submitted by Christen Clemson, a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau and who completed her doctorate at the Pennsylvania State University. She and her family farm in Mecca.

 

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