There's a Novel in Your Living Room

Posted: Dec 25, 2009 12:01 AM

Merry Christmas!

Since you are reading this, the odds are high that Christmas morning rituals are past, and perhaps even food and football. Now you are meandering through the day in a haze of good cheer or at least shaken-off disappointment or amused amazement at the gift-giving instincts of Uncle Jack.

Much as any columnist hates to say it, for most of you there is a better use of your time. If you have an aging mom or dad, or an elderly relative of any sort under the roof, you've got a novel in your living room, and I hope you take some time to at least skim its table of contents today.

On Tuesday's radio show, I was giving away a few gift cards for The winners were callers recounting their worst Christmas present ever, or the one they never got. My pal Mary Katharine Ham never got the Play-Doh factory. Caller Dana recalled how an aunt had assumed he was among the nieces, and while his brothers and male cousins received GI Joes, he got a Polly Pocket, and was promptly nicknamed "Polly" by his male kin for a few seasons.

And then there was Rose Marie, a 79 year old, life long Clevelander, whose call amused and touched many in the audience. You can listen to the entire call here thanks to my producer Duane. Go ahead, take the time. It is worth it.

I had heard of other Depression Christmases from my parents when they were alive, and of course of many other stories from hard times long ago. When my dad and father-in-law were with us, we could also count of a few stories from the war years or the '50s. Now the Woodstock references of the Boomers are eliciting groans from the youngest members of the family.

Time is marching on, and with it all the familiar stories. But chances are you haven't really heard them in a long time, if ever. Chances are your Rose Marie is honored and served, but rarely listened to at length, much less made the focus of a family conversation.

My suggestion is that you give it a try, but do so with a purpose. See if you can't keep Aunt Joan or Gramps focused on the story of their lives, so that at the end of an hour, you know the outline of their life --where they were born, where they lived, the names of their school and favorite teachers, and whether they had a pet and where they had their first kiss.

The older the story-teller, the more patient the audience must be, but the pay-off should be a page of dates and notes, the barest outline of a life. With any luck or skill in listening, you will uncover the central drama --the girl that got away but then was gotten back, the battle which claimed a buddy but not your guest, the business that failed and the new start that followed, the illness that was conquered.

The reason that Rose Marie touched so many people was that she told her story in eight short minutes, and it included a long arc and a few poignant moments. There's a Rose Marie in many homes today, with amazing stories to tell.

But first, you have to ask.

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