The Detective’s Daughter — The Spirit of the Story

kimspolicehatKim Gray in Baltimore trying to avoid the ice and rain.

Aunt Eveyln is seated in the front row in the black jacket. My Dad is the young boy in the middle.
Aunt Evelyn is seated in the front row in the black jacket. My Dad is the young boy in the middle.

I never thought of story telling as an art. It was just something my family did when we sat around the table drinking coffee and eating the sandwiches my grandmother had made. My grandmother’s kitchen table was the command center of our family. Nana, as we called her, conducted her business here much like Michael Corleone did at his desk. If you needed a loan, a shoulder to cry on, a bit of advice or a hot meal, my grandmother’s kitchen was the place to come. Whether you were family, neighbor or friend, Nana was waiting to dish out what you needed.

Big and Little Madeliaines
Big and Little Madeleines

On Saturday afternoons nearly every member of my extended family gathered for coffee, sandwiches and Utz potato chips we had bought that morning at the market. All of my favorite aunts, Betty, Evelyn, and both little and big Madeleines were always there, as well as my uncles Charles, Roy and Abe. It wasn’t long after the food was cleared before my grandfather and Uncle Roy broke out their guitars to play. In between verses of Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey, they would share stories of their days on radio. I enjoyed hearing them tell of my

My famous Uncle Al, Uncle Roy and my grandfather
My famous Uncle Al, Uncle Roy and my grandfather

Uncle Al who had been a band leader and night club owner in Washington D. C. in the 1940’s. He had passed away long before I was born. The three of them along with my grandfather’s brother Joe, had played on a radio program on Sunday nights. I wished I could have heard them, but their stories made me feel as if I were there.

The best story teller was my Aunt Evelyn. I attribute my love of ghost stories and all things haunted to her. She was a slender woman with the blondest hair I have ever seen and the more scary KimAtTableher story became the pinker her skin appeared. She would tell of the ghostly pirates who haunted her house still searching for treasure the had buried in the basement. There was also a woman who seemed to follow my uncle around in their kitchen. My aunt believed this woman to be the long deceased owner of her home. Aunt Evelyn told me the woman had rented rooms to the sailors whose ships had docked in Locust Point. Sometimes the story changed and the sailors became the pirates, but whichever version was told, she believed every word and I did, too. That’s what made her stories so interesting and memorable, she believed them, she was a part of them. The other aunts told stories, repeating what had happened or what they had been told, but never with her passion. Passion is what makes a story compelling.

My great grandmother, my grandmother and Aunt Evelyn.
My great grandmother, my grandmother and Aunt Evelyn.

KimFamily_2Today, sitting at my own kitchen table listening to the rain pound against the window, I am drinking my coffee from the same cup I did as a child and reading one of my favorite ghost stories. From the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of a very blonde woman who has become the star of her story and mine.

Readers: Did your family tell stories?

31 Thoughts

  1. This is my favorite story. My mother used to tell me stories of the Mi’kmaq constellations. The bear was my favorite.

    A Mi’kmaq Song of the Stars

    We are the stars which sing.
    We sing with our light.
    We are the birds of fire.
    We fly over the sky.
    Our light is a voice.
    We make a road for spirits,
    For the spirits to pass over.
    Among us are three hunters,
    Who chase a bear.
    There never was a time,
    When they were not hunting.
    We look down on the mountains.
    This is the song of the stars.

    1. Hi Reine

      As you know, I researched the Mi’kmaqs when I wrote Boiled Over. I had several books of Mi’kmq myths, because I hoped to base my plot on one of them. I never quite did, instead grabbing elements of several.

      1. Barb, I do remember, and I love what you wrote. I think it’s always risky to dip into cultures other than our own, but you did great the way you wrote it, and I think it moved beautifully.

      2. Barb–I have a good Mi’kmaq lobsterman story I will tell you if you email me. It’s not necessarily what you would call a story. It was something a Micmac lobsterman told me. We were saying goodbye just before lobstering season. He was getting ready to leave for Nova Scotia from Boston and told me a few fun tales about a couple habits of some Mi’kmaq lobstermen… if you like.

    2. Beautiful, Reine. Reminds me of one of Silko’s poems.
      My father told us stories, and later wrote some of them down, some of which I’ve shared on my website. His stories and many others helped make my years of teaching more fun and rewarding . . . and effective.

      1. Mary, that’s very kind of you. Just to be clear, though, I didn’t write it. If I am correct, it’s a very old traditional story.

        I understand that when reading some of her work it might be easy to understand her voice as male—I’m thinking particularly of Ceremony—but Leslie Marmon Silko is a woman. For me that made the book especially intriguing. I also think it added a special quality of depth while it revealed cultural norms that many readers might not be aware of.

      2. Our Am. Lit. book included a bio and photo, and yes, the fact that she was a woman added to her appeal. I should read more of her work . . . and I’d love to hear or read the lobsterman’s stories also.

    1. My husband’s uncle (who is of your dad’s generation) is a great joke teller. He never visits without bringing us several new jokes. He was in the insurance business and began his career selling policies door to door, so I think he needed the ice breakers. I remember reading a study once that said that most jokes originated on Wall Street. Stockbrokers needed an excuse to telephone their clients. So it doesn’t surprise me that there are fewer jokes in this age of e-mail and texting. Also comedians have become more situational observers and do ‘bits” instead of ‘jokes.’

  2. My family were great talkers. My brother has complained that he was twelve before he could get a word in edgewise. But it was more debates about current events, and so on, than stories. Though of course we had the old chestnuts, the ones told over and over that get better with each telling. Now that my parents I gone, I realize how many of these I’m carrying that may not make it to the next generation. My mother’s cousins, who are my age, but a part of a different generation, have even more.

    I didn’t have what you had, though, extended family gathering weekly. You’ve made me nostalgic for something I never even experienced!

  3. I love your family photos, Kim! My grandfather was quite a storyteller. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have developed some research skills over the years and have found out that a lot of his stories weren’t true! And now I make up stories of my own. We’ve come full circle, LOL!

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