Remember bedtime stories? Being read to? Reading to someone? Bedtime stories are often remembered fondly. Both my parents read to me and my siblings, though my Dad, a natural storyteller, spent many nights making up stories for us. I remember looking forward to bedtime because I’d get to revel in the worlds my Dad created. We had our favourites… Ozzie the Ostrich, a somewhat awkward and clumsy ostrich who sold bagels off his lengthy neck or buried his head in the sand so as to avoid being spotted by nasty hyenas. We also loved Charlene the Cow, a cow who ate so much chocolate she started to produce chocolate milk. He used to ask me and my brother and sister to come up with three words, all of which he’d incorporate into new stories. Flying cats. Magic keys. Fairy dust. Skeleton kings. You name it. These stories were fantastical beyond belief.
We were also read the classics. Beatrix Potter and Dr. Seuss. Grimm Brothers fairy tales (child friendly.) Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, forever heartbreaking in the beauty of its message. These stories shaped my childhood and I owe my gratitude to more than the authors. I also owe my parents. Their attentiveness, their awareness that stories contribute to a child’s development is something I’m not sure I’ve ever thanked them for. I know they read my blog, so thank you, Mom and Dad, for your caring devotion!
But the oral tradition doesn’t end here. Campfire stories filled with ghosts or ax murderers are often told as frightened listeners devour melting s’mores, peel their feet from the fire’s edge as sparks reach for their toes. Campfire stories… What I love most about these stories is the way in which they bond people. All stories do, but there’s something about the mesmerizing dance of a fire, the feel of a warm blanket over one’s shoulders as stars freckle the sky, that infuses these stories with life, encourages community and attentiveness. To lean forward, the smell of hot cocoa rising from a tin mug, as the storyteller describes a headless ghost on the prowl is horribly delightful.
Among my friends, I tend to be the reader. When my best friend and I adventured through Iceland together, she expressed her love of being read to and I expressed my love of reading out loud. A wonderfully symbiotic relationship formed. At night, I’d read her poems or stories. As the wind howled violently, these stories offered solace. I started paying attention to intonation, came to understand that reading out loud is something of an art form. She, meanwhile, was exposed to new stories. Like children, we looked forward to bedtime, to stories and new worlds.
But while I love reading out loud, I also love being read to. I remember deciding I wanted to date a guy after he’d spontaneously read me a book off my shelf. I’d felt happy that he did so without my asking. I also remember travelling with my first love. Some nights, especially when home seemed impossibly far, he’d read me excerpts from various books. The sound of his voice, irreplaceable and incredibly comforting. Lately, however, I’ve been considering audiobooks. One of my friends listens to them regularly, loves being able to listen wherever and whenever. It’s taken me a little longer to get on board since the few audiobooks I have listened to were of poor sound quality and dully executed. Nevertheless, I think I’ll give them another chance. After all, I miss being read to so perhaps they’ll satisfy my desires.
I’ll end by claiming that stories are a part of any culture. The oral tradition has a long history. As do books. Stories are everywhere… in schools and hospitals, at camp and church, sought in times of crisis or celebration, in beds, tents or cars, stories are portable magic and exist in so many forms. With that I bid you farewell as I plan to enjoy this snowy weather curled up with a book and some warm coffee. If you would like to share bedtime memories, your favourite books or thoughts in general, please comment below!