I have just finished Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb and I blubbered like a baby as it was finishing. Not because it was particularly sad, but because it struck a chord with me during the 5th anniversary of my grandmother passing.
Bess writes about her grandmother, but in a way that is creative, humorous, and beautiful. I don’t know her grandmother very well, but it seems like she adopted her voice perfectly. She writes about a full life, one of love, loss, triumph, and struggle. She writes about three generations of women (and briefly a generation of a boy). An only daughter, of an only daughter, of an only daughter.
The retelling of her grandmother’s stories woven among conversations and voicemails (and the voicemails killed me), created a charming mosaic of a book, something someone with a real gift can create.
I started thinking more about the stories my own grandmother, my Nanna (not pronounced nana, but I’m not sure how to correctly write the pronunciation. The closest I got it nan-neh) told us growing up, and the stories my family continue to tell when we gather during the holidays. Stories of strife and survival, told through laughs now because these are better times now, although definitely not perfect.
I regret not writing down these stories to pass down to future generations. I took them for granted, thinking the storyteller would live forever. It’s only been 5 years and I can already feel them fading. And left still are stories that will forever remain untold because they are too painful.
When I started this book, it inspired me to write down all the little stories Nanna told us, and the stories we created together. Roots is another family legacy that inspired me. Through passing down these stories, we keep our ancestors alive.
The art of storytelling is so powerful to me. It can provide connection and teach valuable lessons, empathy above them all. And storytelling happens to be one of my weak spots writing. I’m too brief and concise. I don’t provide enough details. I often leave things out on accident or place things out of order.
I want to try to tell a story now:
There is a story behind my first tattoo, cardinal just above my heart. It’s from a saying my Nanna used to tell us grandkids all the time. I never thought I would be the one to get a tattoo. I couldn’t think of something I wanted that was important enough to be a part of my body forever (and something I could justify getting to my mother). And then my Nanna died.
Every time Nanna saw a cardinal, she would tell us to blow a kiss at them. She never called them cardinals, only red birds, so when I tell people the story behind my tattoo, I have to remember to call them cardinals. I don’t quite remember why we were to blow kisses. Something about sending a kiss to your love? Maybe just for good luck?
I looked up the significance of cardinals recently. On several (probably less than reputable) sites, it said that cardinals are like messengers from the spirit world. Every time I see one, I feel like she is near, watching over me, letting me know everything is going to be ok, so I blow a kiss.
Tattoos, conversations and laughs at the dinner table, writing a book commemorating a life, all of them are ways to tell a story. Telling those stories are what keep us together, in life and in death.
What are some stories that are important to you?