Stories are important.
That’s why there is truth in fiction.
When you think of a story that has touched you, that’s the truth in it, but it may not be factual.
Family stories aren’t always factual, because we always remember things differently, especially from our childhoods. But the truths we learn from them last a lifetime or more.
I remember my mom talking about when my dad came home from Europe at the end of World War II. He was sitting at the table in my maternal grandparents’ kitchen in Connecticut. My grandmother, who was an excellent baker, served him a slice of cake. I picture chocolate cake, but I don’t know if it was. I picture my mom sitting across from him, her eyes full of love at being reunited with her husband after three years. As he took a bite, he began to cry and said, “Cake! I haven’t had cake in three years!”
I know the gist of the story is factual, but the image in my mind may not be. It might have been another kind of cake. The four of them may have been enjoying dessert in the living room. But the story is true. The emotion my dad felt on finally being home and enjoying a simple slice of cake is true. And the fact that my mom remembered what happened, and the emotion she felt, are also true.
The story is true. It contains the truth of home, family, and love.
Children never really know the sufferings of their parents. My dad told me stories about his experiences during World War II, but I was a child, and he told it as an adventure story. I know now that it wasn’t all adventure.
Nevertheless, I treasure the memories of his story telling. These were my bedtime stories. Then my mom would come in to kiss me goodnight, and I would repeat dad’s story to her.
Another one that will always stick in my memory is his account of being on a ship traveling from England to North Africa. After surviving a storm on the Atlantic, the ship joined up with a convoy coming from the States. The ship developed engine problems and fell behind the convoy ships, making my dad’s ship a sitting for German U-boats. After several days, they made it safely to Gibraltar, where they anchored in the bay for eight days while the ship was repaired. They were still not out of danger. One morning an Italian frogman was apprehended trying to attach a mine to the side of the ship. The food was limited and being an English ship, the experience led to my dad’s lifelong aversion to mutton and orange marmalade.
Years later, I told the story to a friend of mine who is of Japanese background. She told me that her father had been kamikaze pilot in World War II. The pilots were only allowed one mission. If it failed for some reason, they would not be sent out again. Her father went out in his plane, ready to die for his country, but the American ship he was sent to attack was not where it was expected to be, and he returned alive.
Both of our fathers survived. One because a ship was not where it was supposed to be, and one because he was on a ship that miraculously avoided an attack.
These are our stories. I know some of the facts because my dad wrote them down. Most importantly, I know how the stories make me feel, and this is the role of story in our lives.