My family log house, early 1770’s
Telling stories is akin to reading aloud. Words come alive when children ‘make the pictures in their heads’. Listening stretches the brain because language, every word, is suddenly a lit fuse.
When I started teaching, I had reading-aloud in my pocket, but not storytelling. Well, not stories about me, ‘Jennie Stories’ (that’s what the children call them). It started at lunchtime, a ‘classroom family’ time at school. We talk about our families and a million other intimate and close things that bring us together. One day I told a childhood story…
It was a dawning; all the benefits and power of storytelling were suddenly magnified since the stories were about me, their teacher. I was real, and through my stories I had the same fears, worries, and silly mistakes. Children really listened, and that means young brains were in the highest gear. That translates into learning – of course I continued to tell my childhood stories!
The stories I heard as a child had the same effect on me. Oh, those wonderful stories and memories! My grandmother, Nan, was the storyteller. I remember her stories well, and my own childhood events have become the foundation for ‘Jennie Stories’.
My first childhood memory is the sound of a train. I was sleeping in the family log house in Lowell, WV. The house today is known as the Graham House and is on the National Historic Register. But, back then in the 50’s, my family still owned the house. The history is thrilling; it is the oldest two-story log house west of the Appalachian mountains, built in the early 1770’s. My grandmother, Nan, lived in the house until she was married. She told me many times the story of Indian raids. On one occasion the children were in the summer kitchen and ran to the house. The boy did not survive and the girl was kidnapped. It took the father eight years to get his daughter back, trading horses with the Indians. Family stories.
As a child, listening to this story is much like my preschoolers listening to my childhood stories. I know how that feels, and I, too, make those pictures in my head.
The sound of the old steam engine train whistling by as I slept at the old log house is one of my fondest memories. When I recently visited the house with my husband, my first visit since 1964, I immediately recognized everything. I ran up the stairs and felt along the wall beside my bed, as there had been holes for rifles to go through when fending off an Indian raid. The holes were still there, just as I remembered, and just as Nan had told me.
Is it the sound of the train that makes my memories crystal clear? I think so. On the playground at school the far away sound of a train goes by in the morning. Often I have the children listen carefully, and then I tell them about sleeping in a log house and listening to a train. Stories are the keepers of words and memories.