Our stories from an oatmeal box

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At our family Thanksgiving gathering, my dear granddaughter, who is 15, spent much of the day with eyes fixed on her smart phone while texting friends. Most of the time, I did not see her whole face, just the top of her head and her bangs. She sat on the couch with all the relatives around; she was there, but not engaged.

Early the next morning, we all met for breakfast before out-of-town family had to get on the road. At breakfast, one of my sons told me a story about his wife’s grandfather from Spain who remembered the Franco era and had fought on the Russian front during World War II. I was fascinated by this piece of history recalled through the memory of a grandfather who was no longer around to tell stories.

Out in the parking lot, during hugs and goodbyes, it occurred to me: Why don’t we tell stories more often? That would be more entertaining to me than even a Steelers game on Thanksgiving.

So for Christmas, I made a box — a gift designed to give gifts back to me, to all of us really. It is simple to make and costs next to nothing. Take an oatmeal box — you know the kind, cylindrical with a rosy-cheeked Quaker on the front. Wrap it in any festive paper and, if you are the crafty type, add trimmings. Create a label that says simply “Tell Me a Story” in big letters and wrap it around the box.

Then get creative with story starters written on small bits of paper and dropped inside the box: “the first time you saw your dog, and why you picked him,” “your best day at school this year,” “the first time you saw a snake that wasn’t stuffed and lying in a display case at the Carnegie Museum,” “free choice,” “a favorite place to visit on vacation,” “an interesting relative,” and on and on.

At our Christmas gathering, each person picked a bit of paper out of the box and told a story. My granddaughter put her phone on the mantelpiece and told us about the first airplane ride she remembers. This gift was low-tech and homemade and I got to see my beautiful granddaughter’s whole face. Mission accomplished!


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