Monday, October 12, 2015

October 12, 2015--John's Turtle Story

"Our grandkids can't get enough stories."

"Those you tell them or read to them?"

"Both," John said, "But more the ones we read since after a few readings they can follow along as if they're reading."

"I've seen that with little ones," Rona said, "They memorize the text and seem to be following along as you read."

"They even know when to turn the page," John said.

"Amazing," I said. "What do you think is the story?"

"You mean their favorite stories?"

"Not so much that. The story as to why stories seem so important, even essential to kids. From my experience they can never seem to get enough."

"Maybe it coincides with their learning to talk," Rona said. "It's a great way to build vocabulary and help with syntax."

"I think it's more than that," John said, among the three of us the only one with children and now grandchildren. "One really interesting thing is that when I finish reading one, they say, 'Again, grandpa, again. Over and over again. That suggests there's something very important going on."

"I'm suddenly remembering that I couldn't get enough of The Little Engine that Could. I had my mother read it as often as she was willing."

"You're dating yourself," John and Rona said simultaneously, as if they had rehearsed.

"I know. I'm old and . . ."

"Not that old," Rona said. "And for the most part you still have your memory."

Ignoring that, I said, "Isn't it the one about the little locomotive that is able to pull a very long train of cars over a steep mountain after bigger engines refused to even try?"

"That's the one," John said, generously joining me in revealing that he too is old enough to remember it. "While struggling with the train, the little engine, which speaks as if it's human, says, 'I think I can. I think I can.' That's the line we all remember."

"And succeeds," I said. "So, like many children's stories it has a not-so-hidden message. In this case, perseverance, optimism, and the value of hard work."

"And an eager willingness to take on hard tasks. Seemingly daunting challenges. Good solid American values. At least they were back then."

"Why do you guys always seem to want to find subliminal messages in things like this? Isn't it enough to just say it's a good story, well written, with language and rhythmics that appeal to young children?"

Again ignoring that, I said, "In my day, this story was pitched to boys, I'm not sure it was all that popular among girls. I even wonder if mothers read it to their daughters?"

"There a lot of sexism there," Rona said, "I  think my mother did. But there I go also being over analytical."

We all laughed.

"While we're being over analytical," John said, winking, "there seems to be an adult need as well for stories. Look how popular novels are and so many TV shows from Masterpiece Theater to Homeland to Mad Men. You name it, there are lots of adult stories available in different forms--in movies of course --that there must be a story gene in our DNA."

We looked at him skeptically. "Give me one example of a society, a klan, a tribe, ancient or modern, that doesn't value stories. In some cases cherishing them. So much that even before there were written languages, people passed them along orally from generation to generation."

"I can't think of any," I said. "Among other things, for seemingly all the time there have been humans, us very much included, everyone has had their own creation myths. Or, if you prefer, stories."

"True," Rona said, "Especially about how their tribe or society or civilization came into being. Including how humans came into being."

"From Romulus and Remus," John said "Who were pre-Romans raised by wolves. Do I have that right? From them the ultimate Roman Empire emerged?"

"Yes. And how so many in the West pass along their, our creation story through the Old Testament."

"Getting everyone on board about their particular origin myth is a way to connect people to each other in very deep and profound ways. It's so frequent that it must be essential to their survival as a tribe or society or nation."

"Native Americans have really fascinating ones," John said. "The Navajo  creation story, for example, is about how at first there were four spiritual worlds and only insects existed. But it was from the fourth world, after trying the other three and being thwarted, through a hollow reed, that the first humans emerged, males and females, who came from insects and were sustained by ears of white and yellow corn."

"I've heard versions of that one," I said.

"Isn't there another one about a turtle?" John said. "How a prehistoric turtle emerged from a muddy pond with the first tribal member on its back and . . ."

"I think you're making that one up," I said.

"Could be," John said, winking again.

"Go on," Rona said, "I want to hear the rest. How things worked out for the turtle people."

"But he's making that one up," I said.

"I don't care," Rona said. "I want to hear the rest of it. It sounds like a great story."

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