Story-telling: the Oral Tradition and Photography

I have some vivid memories of my great-Uncle Jim visiting my Granddaddy Summer. Granddaddy was not much of storyteller, but Uncle Jim had storytelling down to an art. He would entertain us for hours and hours with stories of growing up in Peak, of his mother raising eight (or maybe nine) children after being widowed (Great-granddaddy TW Summer was only in his thirties when he died in a railroad accident), of working the fields around the “home place.” I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life than when Uncle Jim would tell his stories. Through his stories, I came to know some of my great-aunts and uncles who had passed on before I was born, to know my great-grandparents, and to know some of my family history. Those stories are important, and I wish I had written them all down before Uncle Jim passed away in 1977.

My father was also a storyteller; he inherited from Uncle Jim and from Aunt Mary (she also told good stories, but I didn’t see her as often or spend as much time with her as I did with Uncle Jim. They were brother and sister to my Granddaddy Summer). He told us stories of being stationed in Germany after World War II as part of the United States Army peace-keeping forces during the Occupation. I need to write his stories, too.

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(taken in May 2015; Daddy passed away on August 12, 2015.)

A fire five years ago stole my photographs of these two men and others. The photographic record is gone, and all that’s left is to tell their stories with the written word. Of course, other family members have pictures as well. There are pictures of TW Summer and “Ma Minnie,” my great-grandparents, and of my great-great-grandfather James Andrew Summer. I can visit their graves at little Capers Chapel United Methodist Church near my parents’ home.

In the years before television and radio, storytelling was entertainment, but for me it serves a much larger purpose. Storytelling passes along family history and family values. My father’s family were farmers. Even those of us who do not farm for a living have learned to value the land, not only for its usefulness, but for its beauty. I inherited almost forty acres of property that my father and grandfather purchased many years ago; we refer to them as the Red Field and the White Oak. These acres are part of my past; heaven knows, I spent a good portion of my childhood playing in the red road beside the field (before it was paved and straightened), helping to haul hay and bags of oats, and carrying ice water in mason jars wrapped in brown paper grocery bags. Daddy kept his farm implements in the shed across the road from the field, and no one even thought of stealing the plows and mowers and hay rakes and combines.

Stories are important, both the words and photographs. We are missing so much when we do not take time to tell our family stories to our children. We are too consumed by the stories we see on TV—the news, the sit coms, the dramas. Photography, the images we make and share are part of our history, perhaps the real history that our children need to learn.

Maybe one day, “Vincent” (I decided to name my camera after my favorite painter, Vincent Van Gogh) and I will write the story of my family and my childhood home in Peak, collecting the good and the not so good, the mysteries (I think every home town has those mysteries that are never solved), the love and respect.

I began scrapbooking almost twenty years ago, and even though I no longer scrapbook regularly, I know how important it is to record the stories of family. It is the only way to share the real history of people and places and events.

I love conversation, the close, intimate kind amongst friends. Won't you join me? I look forward to a good coze.

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