(Not) Just the Facts, Ma’am.

It seems this time of year, as family gathers for the holidays, that storytelling always creeps into conversations.  And with the recounting of past events there is usually some friendly disagreement about the facts.

It seems this time of year, as family gathers for the holidays, that storytelling always creeps into conversations.  And with the recounting of past events there is usually some friendly disagreement about the facts. “The wallpaper in that old house was green, not blue.”, “He was only 12 when that happened, not 16.”, “That’s a picture of Aunt Flossie, not Uncle Gene”, and of course the always present “I’m telling you I walked 5 miles in the snow uphill every day to school.”

While these disagreements never come to blows, they do sometimes get heated.  The person telling the story, usually the eldest in the group, is convinced that his or her version is correct no matter what evidence is presented to contradict his facts in the story.  I’ve listened to these stories (and arguments) for years and always wondered why people remembered things so differently and why these small facts mattered anyway.

This year as I listened (and also told, because I’m now occasionally the eldest in the room) some of these stories, I came to realize that it’s not about the facts.  Don’t get me wrong, facts are important and we should know and remember our family history.  But these stories are not just about facts they are also about people and feelings and emotions.  We all understand when our parents and/or grandparents told us they walked to school everyday in the snow that what they were really saying was they had it tougher than we did.  But do we understand when an cousin remembers being only around 12 years old during a scary moment in his life when he was actually much older, that what he may be conveying, whether he realizes it or not, is that he remembers feeling like he was too young to be in that situation?  Maybe when your grandfather tells you a story about owning a 57 Chevy, when it was actually a 1960 model, it not about the year, it’s about the fact that he thought it was the badest-ass car he ever owned.  Green or blue wallpaper?  Maybe it was just ugly.

So next time family gathers and the stories start to flow, don’t get too caught up in the facts and whose right or wrong.  Listen to the meaning.  Ask yourself why is this person telling this story.  What are they trying to teach me or pass on to me.  You will come away with far more knowledge than you would ever get from just the facts.  Oh, and the question about whether that’s a picture of Aunt Flossie or Uncle Gene.  That will be settled tomorrow with a duel at dawn.

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