My father passed away last night after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. He was 86 years old. I will miss him, but I’m glad that he could slip away peacefully and without the severe pain that so often accompanies cancer.
I’ve noticed as I’ve grown older that some of my father’s mannerisms lurk within me, popping out at unexpected moments. We have a similar sense of humor. Sometimes I’ll realize that what I’ve just said or done was what he would have said or done. And every so often I’ll get a look on my face that prompts my wife to say, “That’s your father’s look. Stop it!”
After I was grown and married, I learned that like me my father was a writer. He’d never had anything published, but he’d written poetry, fiction, and essays. Poetry and I don’t usually get along, but eventually I did have a chance to read some of his fiction. A devoted Christian, religion inspired most of his works. With the rise in digital publishing, he used a print-on-demand outfit to publish one of his novels. A second and probably better novel waited in the wings, but never made it to publication. I haven’t read it in its entirety yet, but I’m considering editing it and arranging for its publication.
One might, therefore, suspect that I got my love of storytelling from my father. But it runs even deeper. A “family story” written by one Wilshire Lehman, one of my distant uncles, details the great westward migration of the Lehman family. Yes, early in the 1800’s, my great-great-great grandfather Adam Lehman (I love to tell people I can trace my family back to Adam!) moved his family from the civilized environs of southeastern Ohio to the “wild west” of Mercer County, practically in Indiana, built a homestead, and in so doing laid the foundations for a story that over a century later would be recorded. Wilshire titled it, “And They Got There.” Decades ago, my father helped arrange the typing and distribution of the manuscript to interested family members, and later had it put into electronic form.
As part of the package, dad wrote a brief introduction to the work, in which he stated, “The Lehmans have always been storytellers.” He noted that Wilshire had, by his own admission, inserted some fictional material into the account in order to make it more interesting. This fascinates me, since my first efforts at storytelling predated any knowledge of such matters. I don’t know exactly how old I was, but I remember composing a very silly little tale when I was young, probably no older than seven. At that time, I didn’t even know how to spell the word “hawk.” (I inserted an “l” before the “w”.) As I grew, I continued to write fictional tales not out of a desire to become rich and famous but simply because I enjoy writing. Why should that be?
Whether nature or nuture I don’t know, but maybe a penchant for storytelling does, somehow, pass from one generation to the next. Other traits do. For example, “And They Got There” portrays Adam as an honest, hard-working man who a weakness: he worries about the unknown. When making plans, he hesitates if he can’t be sure of the outcome and must sometimes force himself to press on. On the surface, this sounds like one of Wilshire’s fictionalizations. The specifics may be. But the trait itself? I have to wonder, because I recognize that as one of my own characteristics: I, too, am prone to hesitation when outcomes are unclear.
So yes, many things may run in families, and storytelling just might be one of them.