Tales from the Crib: The power of experience in storytelling

"You realize that 35 years from now no one is going to believe this stuff really happened." I was drinking beer with a couple of buddies from the old neighborhood when the war stories started to fly.

“Remember the time Marius Overhand drove Dawn’s grandma’s Duster around the block half the night backwards trying to roll the odometer back 17 miles? And you and Steve were sitting on the trunk drinking beers and shouting directions until the transmission locked up!”

“Yeah and how about when Billy Clifford threw that bicycle tire up onto the transformer in front of the Welteroth’s house and it blew out the power to the whole neighborhood—and everyone thought Marius did it?!”

“What about the time you almost burned your house down when you tried to get rid of that wasp nest?”

Good times.

There's nothing quite as entertaining to hear--or as fun to tell--as a true story from your past. And recounting these stories can be cathartic, too. Looking back through the filter of a couple of decades after a couple of beers, the outrageously idiotic decisions you made back then don't seem entirely idiotic. I mean, hey, we're alive to tell the stories, right? Most of us, anyway.

My daughters have heard my childhood stories a million times over the years. But that night, Claire asked why I can remember so many stories from my misspent youth, but I only tell them the same dozen or so well-worn stories about their childhood.

I wondered, too. Then it hit me. My memory is so vivid because I experienced those misadventures directly, while I was only a witness to my daughters’ exploits … like how Claire used to leave invitations for imaginary play-dates on the home answering machine because nobody liked her when she was little … or when Karlyn drove her Big Wheel at full tilt right down the basement stairs, not hitting a single step until she crash-landed on the floor (although I did experience the nauseating sound of her over-sized toddler head smacking onto the linoleum which was not unlike the thud of a pumpkin hitting the sidewalk).

You obviously can’t transport your audience back to Bayberry Lane circa 1978 to have them experience the adventures that would someday become your stories. But you do have to tell your stories in ways that will make them feel as though they experienced them with you.