Life Through Stories

My first dad died when I was almost four. I have a few clear memories of him.

Lisa, Frank, and Lucy

For a while, only one side of him worked with the help of a leg brace. And then neither side did.

Holly and dad 2

The youngest sibling, when one side still worked. The leg brace isn’t visible but the tumor that killed him is just starting to bulge on the side of his head.

The curve of the wheelchair when I’d sit on his lap as he wheeled me back to bed. I’d sneak out to watch television. If dad found me, I’d get that ride in the wheelchair. Plus, he’d sit by the bed and tell me stories until I fell asleep. Mom would just haul me back with no stories. I understand now. He knew his time with us kids was limited, months if he was lucky. Mom was overwhelmed. Three little kids, a dying husband, a bleak future.

The ashtray full of cigarette butts. It was always fuller when the uncles visited.

Barfing. Lots and lots of barfing. Dad and the uncles had been playing poker and drinking beer. And feeding me chocolate ice cream. There wasn’t room on the table for cards and bottles, so bottles went on the floor at their feet. Within reach.

img003 copy

Dad and the uncles found it hilarious. Mom, not so much.

But mainly, what I know of the man is through the stories others told.

The time he and the sheriff’s son shot up the door of a community hall. Well, they technically were shooting at a calendar. Forgot about the door.

All the sports he lettered in. How small he was compared to the uncles. How they’d start a fight and he’d finish it. How fast he could run.

The, probably apocryphal, story about getting drunk, waking up the next day, and being in the Navy.

Getting shore leave, being invited to a party, coming down the sidewalk pulling a tee-shirt over his head. And meeting my mom for the first time.

And then the whole military thing. Like the time he missed the boat. Literally. Too much shore leave. Court martial for that one.

Court Martial pg 2

Three days. Some shore leave. I wonder if he remembered it later.

The other shore leave story, in Korea at the end of the war, finding a tiny newborn in the garbage. Smuggling her back on the ship. His plans to keep her, bring her home, raise her. His horror that someone would throw away a child. He was forced to return her.

These snippets of a lifetime make me ponder on how vital stories are. How we keep people, traditions, habits, alive through words. I’ve heard you die twice. First your physical death. And then again, when there’s no one left to tell your story.

I think about the stories I tell. The ones I read. The others I hear. All those words piling up, creating nostalgia and memories, laughter and sadness.

But most of all, building a life.

It’s not such a bad thing, to be remembered in stories.

Window Lisa climbed out of

My memory – sneaking out this window to play when I was supposed to be napping.

135 thoughts on “Life Through Stories

  1. I loved reading about your first dad. Then the line about no one around to tell your stories… It reminds me of what my dad said a few years after my mom died. He said that there was no one around to share the memories with any longer. Sad, but aren’t we thankful there are memories for now. I guess it’s that is the circle of life though.

    • I never thought about the aspect of sharing the story. As in, I thought about the telling, but not the hearing. There does need to be someone to listen. I have all these old Christmas decorations that have family stories attached – of people my son never knew. I wrote the stories down. Someday when he’s left with this box wondering why I kept decrepit ornaments, he can read the story and decide if that makes them valuable or not.

      • Yes. I have the same thing with ornaments and other household items. I sometimes think about how each generation accumulates more and more stuff. I know that I really haven’t bought a lot of my furniture, as it was things left to me and that somehow in my mind means I cannot part with it. I totally understand the hoarder mentality. In the end though, it’s the family and the stories that mean the most.

  2. Thank you. That was wonderful. My own father is gone now, but your story, and pictures brought back good memories. He was also a navy veteran, who served in Korea. He was stationed on an aircraft carrier. I am sorry for your loss of him so young. I had my father for 78 years. Thanks again, and take care.

    • I’m glad this brought back memories for you. I was lucky enough to gain a ‘second’ dad that I had for many years. Still miss both of them. But like you, we have those memories. Thanks for visiting.

  3. Wow, this hit me hard. Thank you for sharing. I’ve always hoped to leave some kind of everlasting memory on this world. This is a piece of writing I won’t forget. ❀️

    • Oh, now I’m going to have to listen to that one. Song lyrics always impress me. How they get a whole story into such a compressed few lines of lyrics. Rather like poetry.

      • Yeah .You should that song is great and if you want you should also read or watch ME BEFORE YOU movie.i think you will like it. it’s nice getting to know you and it was a insightful experience for me😊😊😊😊😊.

  4. Lovely! Thanks for sharing.
    My grandfather used to tell us about his experiences during the war. Maybe I wasn’t interested that time that I couldn’t remember clear details though I’ve heard them a lot of times.
    When my children were growing up, I would always tell them about my grandmother. I love my grandmother so much, that’s why. I’ve told myself, I’m going to be the best grandmother when I become one. πŸ™‚

    • You probably will be, just because you know what makes one wonderful. Mine told me so many stories growing up, and they’d be the same ones over and over. I thought I’d always remember. Now I wish I’d written them down.

  5. My kids tell “my” stories and the stories I have told them that my parents shared with me, better than I do. Yes, that makes me quite happy. Happier than them begrudgingly accepting heirlooms to remember us by.

    • That’s wonderful! And yep, I worry about leaving behind tons of stuff my son has no interest in or no idea why I kept things. But the guilt over that is lessened by the guilt when I think of leaving behind boxes and boxes of scraps of paper. The ones that someday might work themselves into a book. If I ever opened those old boxes and rediscovered all those scraps!

    • Thanks for stopping by. One thing I’ve noticed personally, is having to be careful that those stories don’t become memories. Rather like a photograph seen so many times that you swear you were actually there. Know what I mean?

      • It’s true. My younger sister was 3 when my mother died, and in her 20’s she told me that she wasn’t sure that she really remembered anything at all. I said, “What about that time she fell in the tub while giving us a bath? You always talked about that.” And she replied, “No, that was your memory.” After some time, it’s hard to tell the difference.

  6. Of all the work I do in genealogy and family history it is the family stories that are the most important. The dates and facts we gather are the support system for the family stories. It is the stories that bring our family to life. Keep telling them and writing them down.

    • And it’s the stories that bring that past, and those who went before, to life. I look at old photos in our family genealogy and wonder who they were – not just the name, and how they’re related, but who they were. And wish someone had written their stories down.

  7. I love this so much! I feel that through stories like this one, you’re able to relive someone’s life even for just a moment. And it humbles you.

  8. Very nice. It’s sad when we lose someone in our lives, but even sadder when people stop talking about them or telling stories of them. It’s true, it’s like they die twice.

    • I was at this old cemetery once – and I mean old, with graves from the 1600s. And I couldn’t help but wonder if there was anyone left who remembered those people or their stories. I found myself wishing for the headstones we saw in Europe that were like six foot long tablets with a person’s life story carved on them.

  9. There is great value in telling stories. History and lessons can be passed through stories. Your spirit, in a way, is survived by stories about you… Your legacy. Great post!

    • You’re right and I never thought about how the spirit survives in stories. But think of the power the oral traditions have held down through the years. Kind of proves your point.

  10. This reminds me of how important it is that someone write down the stories of our parents and grandparents and family history, otherwise, they will be lost, or remembered wrong, details lost. I loved reading your story! 😊

    • Thank you. And you’re right; it’s so important to keep those oral stories alive. A man I know has recordings of an elderly local telling stories that are amazing. I keep saying those tapes need to be transcribed because they are old cassette tapes. Someday I’ll get him convinced.

  11. I am doing the same type of thing. My Dad gave me a couple of boxes of old pictures. I’ve been going through them and writing tid-bits about the memories they stir, and the ones of family before my time, wonderings of what their life was like. Loved your story. Keep telling them.

  12. Lisa, how wonderful that you have these memories. I love the pictures. Sometimes just finding one old photo can create a story.
    My father died when I was 6 months old. Neither my mother nor anyone else in the family said much about how happy him. I was always told he died of a cerebral hemorrhage but found out last summer that wasn’t the whole story. There is no one left to help me with his story. So in my book in progress I have a great deal of leeway when it comes to his character. I made a note on my story line the other day: My father is a fictional character.
    Nice job on this. I’ll be following you.

      • Terrible when our brain types faster than our fingers, isn’t it! Or that dang auto-correct. My habitual issue is typing ‘form’ when I mean ‘from’.

    • Interesting – because you know so little, you are free to create that fictional character the way you want him to be. Have you ever looked at what his death certificate said? Those questions with no answers haunt you. I’ve found fiction to be a great way to answer the questions in a way that helps you move on from the mystery. Good luck with your story.

      • I got a copy of his death certificate last summer. That’s when I realized what I had been told about his death was an incomplete story/ lie/a way of protecting me.

      • It’s hard to balance what truly needs protecting and when protecting does more harm. Good luck in your journey through this.

  13. Pingback: Life Through Stories β€” Lisa Stowe – The Story River Blog | David Falor

  14. The idea of dying twice is so very profound and oh so true. Thank you for sharing your Dad’s story and helping all of us realize how important it is to pass on the tradition of story telling to keep their memories alive.

    • It definitely caught my breath the first time I heard it. I only wish I remembered where I got it from. I want to say it was somewhere like ‘brainy quotes’. Wherever it originated, it’s powerful though.

  15. Your dad sounds like such a thrilling person; I wonder if he’d known, younger, about his condition; I wonder if knowing informed such a memorable life.

    • Thanks for taking time to comment. I’m not sure what kind of differences it would have made. I do know that being aware of the time you have left makes you live it differently (like him telling me stories until I fell asleep). The same question could be asked about all of us. If we’d known where we’d end up, what would we do differently? Or what would we do differently right now if we were given a set end date?

    • Thanks. I actually don’t think about it much – ended up with a fantastic second dad. But I’m glad you caught the humor because I see a lot of humor in those stories, too. Lots of humor in stories about all the uncles, and knowing them makes me assume my dad would have been the same.

  16. I love it. Thank you for sharing. I lost both my parents and understand the mention of two deaths. Losing a parent is hard. Losing the memories and stories is also painful.

  17. Definitely NOT a bad thing! Your brief memory snippets – a wonderful family story. Love the photographs. I’m currently getting back to a site of the church I belong to called that’s open to anyone worldwide; a place for stories like yours, titled Memories that also include photographs, as a photograph can tell a whole story – such as your picture with the bottle. And that last photograph of you looking out the window is priceless. I love this post that I’m just discovering!

    • Thanks. I have so many old black and white photos that I know of people from my grandparent’s and great-grandparent’s generations. But no one thought to write on the backs so I have no idea who many of them are. They’re just faces with no stories attached but I hang on to them because someone, somewhere, knew their stories. And they’re related. I make sure to write on the backs of all mine. Good luck with your return to your family stories.

  18. I really enjoyed reading this and pondering how stories build a life. I’m going to remember that. I did not know my dad until later in life but what I did know of him was through photos and stories. Since knowing him I’ve always felt the stories really filled in the gaps and age me something tangible that I carried on and still do. Thank you so much for sharing, I really appreciated being a reader.

      • What a treasure they are. My great Aunt just sent me photos from my youth, I am always flooded with so many emotions, memories, stories. I am often reminded of my draw for photography and how it stemmed from these old photos. And then I thought of your words and who will tell my story when Im not here. Thank you for provoking my thoughts.

    • I love that line, living a life worth talking about. There are a lot of different interpretations there. I’ve already warned my son I intend to embarrass him in public when I’m old – doing all the things that I’d feel guilty doing now. But of course, joking aside, we should think about the kinds of stories we want people telling when we’re gone. The things we want to be remembered for. I don’t want to be remembered for always showing up to work on time or keeping a clean house (not that I do, but you know what I mean, I’m sure!).

  19. One never knows what will survive of his/her life in the memories of others. But our actions often ripple out much farther than we expect or know. So be good for goodness’ sake, and hope for the best in people.

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