Monday, November 24, 2014

What's your family's narrative? There's more than tradition to the turkey

It’s 4:32 a.m. and I am lying in bed thinking about bread. I want to get up and have a piece of my mother’s nut bread, the one she made only at Thanksgiving, but I would have to rattle around in the kitchen for the scrap of recipe and ingredients. The dog, sleeping at our feet (yes, we’re one of the millions who let them on the bed) would want to get up and go out and bark at the neighbor’s cat, which would wake the husband . . . so I stare at the ceiling and try to remember other favorite foods of Thanksgivings past.

Bread again. This time it’s Bunny bread stuffing. I can’t even remember the last time I ate a piece of soft, white, gluey bread. My mom would rip up several loaves into little pieces and let them dry out overnight. I don’t know what else she did to it, but that stuffing was arguably the best part of the meal, next to the cranberries.

Shadowy light comes in slits through the blinds. I give up and slip out of bed. The dog gets up too.

“Can’t sleep?” my husband murmurs.

 “My head’s full of thoughts,” I say.
It’s the Monday before Thanksgiving. Neither of my parents is alive and I’m routing around in my thoughts for family holiday memories. Although we ate turkey on Thanksgiving, got lots of presents at Christmas and new outfits at Easter, I don’t think my parents were particularly intentional about making traditions. Except for nut bread and stuffing, anyway.

I put on the coffee and think about the importance of family story. The extreme loss of story is a disorder called dysnarrativia. It’s an impairment in a person’s ability to tell or understand story—even their own, as demonstrated in people suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Without your story, you lose your sense of selfhood.

Developing a strong family story is important too. In “The Stories That Bind Us,” Bruce Feiler proposes that “the single most important thing you can do for your family . . . (is) develop a strong family narrative.” He supports this with the results of a study by psychologists Marshall Duke and his wife Sara.

They used a simple measure of questions based on Do You Know about your parents’ childhoods? Your grandparents’? Something terrible your family survived? About your own birth? The results showed that children who knew more about their families were better able to cope with the twists and turns of life, even major traumas like 9/11.

In short, people who know they belong to something bigger than themselves have a better sense of self.
Feiler’s advice: build family traditions, convey a sense of history and retell the family story.

Advice Someone Else recommended long ago, actually: You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.—Deut. 11:19

By now, it’s 7:17. The sun is up, although the day dawns gray. The dog has barked at the cat. The husband’s collected his coffee and relocated in the recliner for time with God.

I pull out my binder of random recipes. It never turns out quite the same as hers did, but I think it’s time to have a go at Mom’s nut bread after all.

My joyful gaggle of geese--blessings and praise


  1. Beautiful piece, Marcia. Thank you for the reminder that we need to know, really know, about our family.

  2. Thanks Cynthia.Hope your Thanksgiving is all things good and homey.

  3. Tears welled up in my eyes with this one, Marcia. Beautiful post. I plan to check out the book you mentioned. Also, I want to become more intentional about my own family narrative. I hope I'm not up at 4:32 still thinking about this. :) I hope you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving, nut bread and all. (( HUG ))

  4. Thanks Cathy I have no doubts you will create beautiful family memories.

  5. I love this post, Marcia. When my paternal grandmother died in 1994, leaving 8 children, 20 grandchildren and a handful of great-grands behind, my dad and his siblings purposed to tell the family story and pass down their parent's faithful legacy. It made such an impression on me as a young mother with preschoolers, and we made it a point to talk about God's faithfulness to us in all the struggles and blessings that came our way.

    I had no idea is was so important, but my 20-something kids have strong family ties that had their beginnings in those stories. This is a GREAT post, my friend. Hope you have a happy (nut bread-filled) thanksgiving!

    1. Susan, I think the power of passing on family story is evident your life and I suspect your children's. A blessed Thanksgiving to you too, friend.


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