The Same Old Story, Until It’s Not

This weekend my grandmother went to the hospital for pneumonia. She’s back home now, taking it easy and taking her medicine. But earlier this weekend the doctors were saying she might be in there for a week. So on Saturday morning I woke up early and drove out to the rural town where I grew up. I rode with my mother to the hospital, and we spent five hours hanging out with my Nana.

My Nana likes to tell stories about when I was little. There are stories I know by heart. The one about a very young me walking through the forest with my Nana and asking her who made the trees, and commenting that the tree-maker had done great work. How I talked my grandfather into giving me the old piano he had just bought. I don’t remember the doing of these stories, I only remember them as told to me by my grandmother. I’ve heard them again and again, until they feel like folk tales. Stories about other people I don’t know.

When my family gets together for a holiday or just to hang out, usually Nana only gets to tell a few of these stories. There’s always some other distraction that gets in the way. There’s the holiday meal to eat, clothes to swap, movies to watch. So I hear the story about the trees, then the one about the piano, and my memories of my childhood begin to feel like they are made of just these moments.

This weekend at the hospital there was a television in my Nana’s hospital room, but we didn’t watch it. My mom, Nana, and I talked. There were the stories I knew. But then we kept going, and my Nana told me stories I hadn’t heard before. In these stories the kid-me is shockingly bossy, telling my mother that she’s driving the car wrong.

When I sit down to write a story, the first few paragraphs are painful. I’m excited to get the story down, but frustrated that every word, every action feels like I’ve written or read it a hundred times before.

If I can push myself past those first words where I’m walking on ground I’ve covered before, then pretty soon I’ll look up and find myself in a strange forest. Someplace I haven’t been. And that’s when the story gets going. The real characters step out from behind trees, we start walking.

I find out who they really are.

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