April 19, 2012
So many of my posts are a result of a particular post I’ve read on Magnificent Nose I know it will come as no shock to see that I’m doing it again. This latest one, “And Then What Happened?”, is a wonderful story about stories, and what makes a good one. I’m not going to go into detail because I really think you should read it for yourselves, but it was when the author, Martha F., was telling stories to her 3 1/2 year old niece that she realized that the key to a good story is when it’s relevant to the listener — or reader.
Reading about how her niece kept asking “and then what happened?” every time she paused, I was instantly transported back to when I was 3 or 4 years old. My mother had two sisters, one an identical twin and another, seven years younger. They were all close, but the relationship between twins — especially identical twins — is like no other relationship. They said the same thing at the same time, without consulting with each other they’d show up wearing the same clothes, and if they didn’t speak to each other at least twenty times a day they didn’t speak once. Sometimes my father and I just shook our heads. I’m an only child, so you can imagine how foreign this concept was to me.
Not long after my aunt was married (mere months before my parents) she got sick and wasn’t allowed to have children for five or six years. She and I spent tons of time together and, to the day she died, she and I had a very special bond. I always said I had two mothers, and to a large extent, I did.
When I was with my dad everyone always said how much I looked like him. When I was with my mother everyone said I was the image of her. So it’s not surprising that when I was alone with my aunt everyone assumed she was my mother. And I’d always grab her hand and whisper in her ear: “Ssssh, don’t tell them you’re not my mother, Auntie ‘Nette (her name was Annette but when I first learned to speak ‘Nette was as close as I could get, and it stuck). It was our little secret, a private joke we shared.
Unfortunately my aunt had more than her fair share of sorrow. She was finally able to have a child. When Cheryl was just 13 months old my aunt’s husband, Cheryl’s father, died very unexpectedly. My aunt was 32 years old. I was five. Needless to say, we all spent even more time together. And in one woman, I had an adored aunt, a second mother, an older sister, a best friend and a confidante. It stayed that way until the day she died, in 2000.
She always had the patience of a saint. She would play with me for hours and hours. We’d read. She loved reading — always had her nose in a book. Before I could read she’d read to me. But what I loved the most were the stories she made up. And like Martha’s little niece, I’d also always ask, “What happened next, Auntie ‘Nette?”
What I’ve never thought about, until Martha’s post sent me wandering down memory lane is, most of the time my aunt asked me what I thought should happen next. She turned on the switch to my imagination. She got me involved in the story. She introduced me to storytelling.
She’s probably the reason I became a writer.
Thanks, Auntie ‘Nette. I just want you to know you’re still encouraging me to share my stories.