Followers

January 22, 2010

Writing Stories

Two guys talking in a bar, one says “number 46” and the other laughs.Seth's new FAT CITY Snowball stand in Albany

This is half what going home has become for me, the other half is laying the foundation for the next stories.

There is such a comfort in a story retold, when one guy can say to the next “number 46” and in that moment refer to a shared time, place, meal, sunset…, thousands of unspoken words, that shared memory which defines a history.

I think the word story, comes from the French word histoire. Every story creates our history, and there is so much pleasure in a story retold. I used to marvel that Oscar wanted to hear the same stories over and over again, I felt a need to tell them differently, but that elicited complaints and a demand for the same details, the same books, the same movies, comfort food for the senses.

Our camping car tour of the Pyrenees with Audrey

I spent the past 7 weeks away from one home and visiting several others. In a decision directed by the high cost of airfare, I stretched a Christmas trip into a tour of the US and touched every base I could work into a single American Airlines itinerary.

Connecticut, California, Missouri & Louisiana, all perpetual homes in my life, all teeming with family and full of the familiar. I descended the jetway and recognized the smell of the air. I exit the airport and the quality of the light takes me back to a “number 46”, an entire package of senses lands upon me more impressive than any jet-lag. The journey to the next home, all part of the story, everything familiar in a language of its own. Familiar billboards, a Dunkin Donuts I stopped into once 25 years ago, an exit ramp I once took by mistake, a train I once missed, a force pulling me down one road and onto another, a memory reinforced by the sights, smells, sounds, flavors, and patterns. Falling asleep in a “guestroom”, to the familiar sounds of a home revisited, the specific timber of a closing door, a rattling window, a coffee maker, memories that you didn’t know you had, but you realize these are the stories that connect you to the rest of your world. This is what makes an extra-ordinary bed feel like home.

“How does it feel to be back?” well it feels like home. Instantly comfortable, surrounded by familiarity, right place, different time zone. The brain changes track adeptly, finding familiarity in the strangest places. George Clooney in “Up in the Air” finds his stories in Airport Hiltons and the cheap sushi of the Admirals club, always the same, dependable and extraneous. Then he goes home to his buried past, interestingly defining his future, flying around the country pushing people out of their comfort zones. Nice movie, uncertain ending….not MY story but perhaps it gave mine some definition.

McGowan Family New Years in Columbia

I found a joy in hearing the same family tales again and again, embellished, inflated, better understood, feeling like home. Each re-telling adds perhaps another ring around the trunk, rooting the words further into my foundation. These stories are perhaps the definition of “home” more than the art and furniture. Perhaps “home is where the stories are”

Traveling is a mix of repeating stories and forming new ones. Reinforced with photos, each adventure finds it’s way into our lore. Half “remember when’s” and “did I tell you’s”. Hot tub’s in the Pyrenees, floods in Arles, a cold beach, or a funny face, each is it’s own “number 46” a few words referring to huge shared events.

Oscar and his cousins Isa, Peeps and Willo

The other half is creating new stories, imprinting new images onto our lives, meeting children and partners new to the mix, sleeping in new guest beds, in new homes, adding to the history. My life is something like half over, it’s hard to think of my glass as only half full, it’s hard to conceive that I’ve got that many more stories in my future…but the math proves it, right?

Oscar’s memories are an interesting mix of fact and photo and stories of others. He loves to hear me retell the story of what happened a few years past, this one or that. He remembers the stories now, not the event. Some of these are photographic memories, that is he remembers the photo as if he remembered the event, but it’s almost the same. The photo just retells the story from another perspective, it’s like re-telling the same joke, it reinforces the memory.

It is so important to re-visit the same story from time to time, reinforcing, defining, substantiating. Moose Tracks, Nan King, Mac & Cheese, BBQ, Sushi Boats…..Food is a story so wonderful to revisit, all the senses chewed together, the company, the flavors, the noise, it’s a mnemonic device certain to remain intact for a very long time. There is a reason I ate 4 roast beef po-boys in New Orleans, I found great pleasure in revisiting that story, securing the details away until I can return and eat 4 more.

Home is where the stories are, and my stories are with me. Here with my son, almost 12, my wife of almost 15 years, a life in France for more than 6 years, and the next stop unknown but certainly reinforced and defined by all the stories till now. The family grows, the stories become more complicated and more important.

“Number 47”…..laughs follow

Dan's mom Susan and his newest niece Josephine


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