“Have I Ever Told You … ?” Ensign, Aug. 1991, 21
My children munched their popcorn excitedly as I told them a story about something that had happened to me in junior high school.
“I was sitting on the school bus as Jerry, with the rest of his gang, came down the aisle looking for the kid who turned in his friend for vandalizing the school. One by one Jerry grabbed each kid and tried to force a confession. I was scared—really scared—because I knew I was the one he was looking for! I looked to see if I could jump out of the window, but I couldn’t. Jerry was getting closer.”
Every one of my children stopped eating their popcorn.
“Jerry grabbed a skinny kid with glasses,” I continued. “‘You finked, didn’t you?’ he demanded. “‘No, I didn’t,’ the kid insisted.
“But Jerry didn’t believe him. ‘Boy, are you going to get it!’ he yelled, and the skinny kid started to cry. What should I do? I was off the hook, but here was an innocent kid facing a beating from this gang for something I had done.”
By now my children were feeling a bit of the same anxiety I had felt that day on the bus.
“I prayed for help,” I told my children, “and the thought came, ‘What would Jesus do?’ I knew what he would do. I stood up and yelled at Jerry and the others, ‘Leave him alone! He didn’t do it—I did!’”
My children sat with their mouths open, waiting to hear what had happened to me—their dad—not some television character.
This is the real magic of storytelling.
Our family loves to have story time on Sunday evenings. We pop popcorn or prepare some other treat, and each member of the family comes prepared to tell a story. Sharing life histories in the form of storytelling has been a delightful way for us to develop love for one another and to help our children appreciate their heritage.
My wife, Jean, and I were surprised at first that our children really wanted to hear about our childhood experiences, the way we met, our first date, and our first jobs. But these stories, even told in the simplest way, weave a magic that creates memories for our children.
We also like to tell stories from the lives of our ancestors. Like many other families, our ancestors were just plain folks living simple lives close to the soil. They came to America as humble, hopeful immigrants. Their life histories are rich treasures waiting to be shared. Over the years, I have retold stories told me earlier by my grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles. For example:
“In order to keep his promise to your great-grandma, your great-grandpa rode his horse all night, through the freezing cold, to get home before Christmas.”
“Earl signed up with the army, even had a uniform, but they sent him home to farm. The government said they needed farmers to grow food so that we could win the war.”
“I remember one day when a tramp stopped at the house and asked Ma for a handout. She fed the man a complete meal and sent him off with a day’s worth of food.”
These stories help my children understand that their ancestors exercised faith and courage as they struggled with the elements, faced diseases, sent sons to war, and buried their children. When our children hear these stories, they understand more of what it means to be part of an extended family and what is expected of them as disciples of Christ.
If we prayerfully seek them, we can find spiritual lessons in even the simplest events that we, our parents, or our grandparents have experienced.
Consider the message in this experience I had with my father.
“I had stopped crying,” I told my children, “but my pillow was still wet when my dad came into my room. He knelt by my bed. It was then that I could see that he had been crying, too.
“‘I’m sorry,’ my dad said. ‘I guess I forget that you’re still a little boy. I want you to take good care of your dog, but I shouldn’t have yelled at you like I did. Can you forgive me, Son?’
“‘Sure, Dad,’ I answered.
“He gave me a big hug. We were both crying.” My kids sipped their hot chocolate, but from their eyes I could tell they understood what I was trying to tell them.