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  • Writer's pictureEmily Rojas

The Stories We Tell

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

Update - November 2022

I've been thinking a lot about this post this week. We've been learning about Dia de los Muertos in my Spanish class (newsletter subscribers know what I mean *wink*), and while I don't celebrate the holiday myself, I am fascinated by it.

Maybe fascinated isn't the right word. Moved, maybe, is better, or inspired. I'm inspired by it, because I have this fundamental belief that the stories we tell are just incredibly important.

Maybe it's because of my mom, and the stories she always told us about her grandfather, Bobby Sid. I never met him, but I feel like I got to know him at least a little. The snacks he enjoyed, the traditions they kept together and his habits and antics -- all of these things are a part of my vocabulary because of the stories my mom has always told me.

I think in our American culture, we disconnect from death in so many ways. And then the ones we've lost disappear from memory in a generation or two. It's easier for us to disconnect from the painful aspects of loss and grief, but then we lose the beautiful parts of it too. We lose the memories when we neglect to tell the stories of the people we've loved and lost.

Just like my mom did, I want to make sure my future kids know the stories of my own grandfather. Even though they'll never meet him, I want them to know his traditions, dance moves, antics and favorite meals. How he forced me to love apple butter, fried pork skin and mayo on my burger buns. I want them to know it all, and remember the stories that I'll pass on.

So even if you don't celebrate Dia de los Muertos or something similar, I would encourage you to share the stories of your loved ones with the generations to come. May we never forget the ones we've lost, and may we always tell their stories.

Original - November 2020

I’m walking down the beach at night with my cousins and uncles when suddenly another family crosses our path. A group of six or seven young kids armed with flashlights and shovels are hunting for crabs, screaming and laughing in the moonlit night.

Suddenly it all comes rushing back, and suddenly we’re all telling stories to each other.

“Remember when...” We all keep saying to each other as we repeat stories we've told a hundred times by now.

It’s Thanksgiving at the beach again and I’m always nostalgic.

Seeing a group of kids doing what we used to do every year brings up memories and stories to tell again and again.

Erick’s here with me this year and I’m explaining the context to him. How Uncle Greg used to tell us scary stories while we hunted crabs, how they revolved around Blackbeard or dancing around a green light. I’m telling the stories to loop him into this complicated web of inside jokes we all share.

It’s strange. One year, we must have gone crab hunting and told scary stories for the last time. We didn’t know it then, it seemed like something we’d go on doing forever.

Now it’s just a story and maybe something we’ll pass on to the next generation of kids. For now, they’re just stories we tell each other.

The more I think about it, the more I realize all families (or maybe especially mine) are just a collection of legends. I can vividly explain to you the car accidents and escape routes of my mom’s and her siblings’ childhood. I know their stories almost as much as my own and I could recall them all with ease.

My family, like many families, is an amalgamation of different bits and parts. Some of us were born into it, others married into it, others we've picked up along the way.

But what I think, and what I'm trying to put into words this Thanksgiving, is that it's not blood that ties families together. It's not contracts or vows either, really. It's just stories. Legends.

Just as much as my DNA is a part of me, so are the stories my mom tells me about relatives that died before I was even born. So are the stories of the countless other memories that make up our history.

Something you should know about me is that one of my favorite Disney movies is Coco.

If you haven't already seem this movie, you should definitely take the time to watch it this holiday season, but I digress.

The movie is centered around Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It follows Miguel, who wants to be a musician despite his family's abject hatred of music. On a quest to pursue music and learn more about his great-great-grandfather, he ends up in the spirit world

I won't spoil the movie for you, but in the movie there's the rule that once the last person who remembers you in the living world dies, you disappear from the spirit world as well. The moral as I see it is that the ones we love are not really gone as long as we continue to tell their stories.

There's a quote (attributed to many different people) that says we die twice, once when we physically pass away, and the second time when someone says our name for the last time.

What I'm trying to say, I think, is that we're all just memories and stories that we share. Families are just collections of people telling a story to themselves. A story of belonging, connection, history and so much more woven together to create a legacy, a legend, a family.

I used to worry that when we grew up my family might start to drift apart. It just seemed like the natural order of things. But the older I get, the less I think that's an inevitability. Now, I think that as long as we keep telling the story of our family to each other, we'll always be connected in this way.

This holiday season is unique and challenging in ways we've never experienced before. More families than ever will spend holidays apart. My hope is that even when we can't gather, we'll continue the stories we tell each other.

After all... Isn't that what Christmas is, anyways? A story passed down generation after generation, across the world, a story of a baby in a manger? Of a quiet, holy night? Of a sacred family that existed thousands of years before we were born?

I know all my stories, but I want to hear yours, too. What's your family's favorite story? Leave a comment and share it with me.

Happy holidays!

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