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“Can you tell me a story?”
I can't begin to count how many times my nieces have asked me that.
When I jump into my theatrical storytelling ways, they absorb every word I speak with rapture. They stare at me like I am a Wonder of The World.
I remember taking some of my (now older) nieces to the library when they were little. We would select books and I would read aloud to them in a corner. Inevitably, other children would come along and listen. I was like the Sirens in the story of Ulysses, drawing kids in with my voice. By the end of it, I was like Fran on Romper Room, with a big group of kids sitting in front of me. When the story finished, I would surely hear, “Another one, please!”
Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of entertainment. Before we had television, cable, internet, cellphones or iPads, people got together and told stories for entertainment and education.
I've always had an insatiable interest in people and witnessing the world around me. Some people love running or music - I love hearing or telling a great story.
There was the time when Grand-Uncle Blais, as a boy, got a cow’s horn through his neck and nearly died.
The time my Grandmere spent an entire year in a sanatorium when she had tuberculosis. This left Grandpere home with nine children. He apparently wrote Grandmere a letter every day she was not at home. Can you imagine how it would feel to be gone from your children for an entire year?
The time Grand-Uncle Jerome (who loves playing pranks) gave his niece a hen in a box for her birthday. At her birthday party, when she opened the box, the hen flew all around the living room. Screams and laughter erupted.
The time my Grand-Aunt gave away unwanted kittens for Halloween. The story goes that she gave away five and only three were returned. Her tactic worked!
Grand-Aunt Rita, who swore her house was haunted, told creepy stories about seeing ghosts.
The time my brother Steve went through a barbed wire fence on a sled and ripped his face to shreds. When my grandfather (who weighed somewhere around 300 pounds) brought him to my mom (a nurse), he nearly fainted and she had to triage them both.
The time two of my elementary school classmates (in Grade 5 and 6), stole our school bus and did wheelies on the soccer field with it.
The time my best friend and I (at 15) stole her parents’ car to go to a party.
The time when I (and five girlfriends) convinced two police officers in Toronto to drive us to the bar in a cop car and took an undergarment as payment.
The time Mom and I were on our way to Australia and had a long stopover in L.A. We decided to take a bus tour of downtown, thinking we had loads of time. Inauspiciously, Michael Jackson had died the night before. We got stuck on Hollywood Boulevard in a traffic jam. We had to exit the bus and pay a taxi $100 American to get us back to the airport in time for our flight. My dear mother (who lives in the country) felt like she was in the Thriller video.
Or when my brother Chris was able to get a dirt-cheap place to live in university because the apartment came with the landlord’s brother as a roommate – who, let's just say, had a lot of issues.
The time we went away for part of March Break, leaving my brother home to look after the house, a very pregnant cow and other animals. We received a frantic call letting us know the cow (and calf) had died. The story goes that coyotes spooked the cow and she got out. Randomly, the police found her nearly a mile away, trotting along the road. They reached my Grand-Uncle (a farmer), assuming it was his cow. My brother went to pick her up the next day. On the way down the driveway, she bawled and dropped dead, likely from exhaustion. Mom and Dad only learned the real story of what happened when my brother got married. Coyotes were not involved, but my brother going to a party and not coming home was.
The time when I was in Vancouver and met a group of older men at my hotel bar. An uproarious conversation turned into a plane ticket to Vancouver Island being booked for me by one of the men. The next morning, he met me at the airport and took me on an epic day tour of Vancouver Island. To be clear, he had hearing aids and grandchildren. This encounter was purely a human-to-human connection. Well, on my end it was.
Or about my parent’s house in winter and utter torture of the winds and whiteouts there. There were times, when people who went off the road in front of our house, would tramp up our driveway. They would stay for supper while they waited for a tow-truck.
How we had so much snow in the winter that we used to jump off the roof of our house into the drifts. One year, David’s boots were not dug out until spring.
How a cousin kept her gallbladder stones in a jar in the cupboard.
I could, quite literally, go on and on and on.
A few months back, I came across a situation at a crosswalk. There was a 'rough around the edges' man lying on the ground, obviously in a lot of pain - a bus driver was with him. There was a crowd of people looking, but not helping, and taking photos with their phones. I asked the driver if she had called 911; she had. I heard sirens and decided I couldn't be of any help, so I kept walking.
I kept wondering what happened to him. Did he get hit by the bus? Have a heart attack?
A few days later, I saw the guy on the street! I said, 'Excuse me, you don't know me, but I saw you on the ground earlier this week and have been thinking of you ever since.' He said, 'Oh, I fell on the ice and popped my shoulder out of place.' I said, 'Glad to see you are OK.' He stopped for a second, paused, looked right at me and said, 'Hey, nobody seems to care about each other anymore. Thanks so much for caring about me.'
My nieces often say, “Aunt Emilie, you will talk to anyone!” True, and I’m not going to stop.
It’s in conversation, interaction with others, being curious about (and being present with) the world around us, asking questions, listening to others and in paying attention where connections, stories and lifelong memories are created.
In the end, after all, we are the sum of the stories we have to tell.
With an insatiable love for human behaviour and circumstance, Emilie Chiasson absorbs the world around her, and turns her experiences into relatable stories. From her home town of Antigonish, NS to her travels around the world, she never fails to connect with the characters and perspectives that make life a bit more colourful. Read more.