Saturday 6 September 2014

Why We Shouldn't Read (Sometimes)

The other day, a newspaper headline caught my eye: “The Joyof Not Reading”, it read.

It was an opinion piece about a man whose immigrant parents had told real bedtime stories to him and his brother as they grew up.  “My brother and I shared a bedroom as kids, and Dad would often come up before lights out and tell stories.”   The author’s father told tales of a peasant life, coming to Canada, homesteading in Northern Ontario and his mother’s thirst for a better life in the city. 

The writer laments that he never told his own children his ‘real’ stories.  “I’d love to say I followed my father’s storytelling tradition, but it just never occurred to me.  I read to my kids before bed, and now I see it was an opportunity lost.”

The writer worried that his suburban North American upbringing would contain no stories worth telling.  But as his own old age approaches, he reflects, “The more I reminisce about my own life, the more I see it was rich with experience, with plenty of opportunities to get into tangles.”

Storytelling is a potent medicine for the heart and mind.  This article got me thinking about how in contemporary society, we believe we have no stories to tell.  But we DO have stories to tell – all of us!  And I have vowed to myself to take this author’s advice and begin telling them to my children, to my mother and now, to you.  So, here’s a story that happened to me when I was twelve years old.  Perhaps you will think of a story to share with your loved one today – we are never too old for ‘storytime’. 

It was the fall of 1967.   In time to begin the new school year, our family had reluctantly moved in late August from Montreal to a small town in Southern Ontario.  My Dad had accepted a job with a big company and it was a promotion.   So we waved goodbye to Expo 67 and the excitement of Montreal’s World’s Fair to greet a farming community and new friends in a small city called Brantford.  Of course I wanted to fit in and I soon found out that not many people moved in and out our town in those days.  Tall for my age, I stuck out in more ways than one. 

So one day, a new friend shook the long bangs from her eyes and announced seriously that she had ‘colored her hair’ using lemon and then the rays of the sun.  Standing around her under the light in the girls’ washroom, we nodded that yes, we definitely saw highlights.  That instant, I wanted lemons more than anything.

You have to understand that my Mom hates to cook.  She’s not even that interested in eating.  In our fridge, we had minute steak, stewed tomatoes, iceberg lettuce and white bread.  But nothing so exotic as a lemon!  I scavenged through our cupboards.  Aha! There it was – Hawes Lemon Oil for Furniture.  “This will do”, I thought and proceeded to pour the contents through my hair over the kitchen sink.  Next, I pulled out a lawn chair from the garage, arranged it on our front lawn and looked up at the sky.  It was cloudy, but there was enough light to give my dark brown hair golden highlights, I was sure. 

An hour later and bored, I climbed the stairs to our second floor bathroom.  I put my head under the hot shower and only then did I begin to realize I might have made a mistake with the lemon oil.  The water ran off my hair like water off a duck.  It beaded and failed to even penetrate to my skull.  A large bottle of Breck Shampoo for oily hair would do the trick, I thought.  Five shampoos later, there was no change. 

Eventually of course, the lemon oil came out of my hair and I never did get blonde highlights.  A few years later, my Dad’s company closed and we moved back home to Montreal. 

Next week, I’ll visit my Mom and I’ll ask her to “tell me a story!”  My Mom’s stories are the funniest ones.  And when I see Nicholas and Natalie, I will ask them for something from their past as well.  Maybe it’s my own advancing age and wanting to replay the events of our family life, but I’m definitely sold on ‘the joy of not reading.’

That said, I hope you won’t give up reading altogether, because my book has just been released in the US!  (It’s already available in Canada.)  There are lots of stories of caregiving in “The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I’ve Learned From a Life of Caregiving” as well as reflections on the meaning of a ‘good life’ for families involved in giving and receiving care.

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