Nature and Nurture (May theme: Parents)

My mother was the one who read to my brother and sister and me; who suggested books when I ran out of something to read; whose huge collection of favorites, carefully preserved from her childhood, guided and still guide my taste. My father largely stayed out of this part of our lives, sitting across the living room with a scientific journal or a thick history book whose tiny type and lack of illustrations didn’t tempt me away from the—to me—much more attractive novels my mother left temptingly within reach.

But on long car trips (my father hated to drive, and anything over thirty minutes was considered “long”), carsickness kept me from reading, and in those days there was very little on the radio for kids to listen to. When the boredom-induced bickering got out of control, my father would demand absolute silence, and once we had obeyed, he would launch into a story.

"What happened next, Dad?"
There were several recurring serials. One favorite chronicled the adventures of Doris the Delightful Dolphin and her boyfriend Robert (pronounced in the French way, for some reason). Our Sheltie, Socks, apparently had a relative named Shoes, the world’s worst sheepdog, constantly tricked by his archenemy, Hubert the Hostile Huron (I pictured Hubert as a long-legged waterbird, perhaps a Great Blue Huron?). We learned that we had a family ghost named Twig Ericson. Inot and Nad were two filthy monkeys who ate fleas off each other (when my cousin Toni, who had a boyfriend named Dan, reversed the monkeys’ names, I don’t know if she was insulted or amused).

He could go on for what seemed like hours, always wrapping up just as we pulled into our grandmother’s driveway or the beach where we were spending our vacation.

A generation later, he told his grandchildren about Doris and Socks and Twig, but when one of his grown children stopped by to listen, something froze in him and the story fell apart. Once, we tried to record a story, but he sat there unable to come up with anything. And then those characters died with him.

How much of our personalities do we inherit from our parents? I like to think my storytelling gene came from my dad.


  1. Isn't that amazing how those characters seemed to belong to him alone? So special that you got to share them with him, at the moment they were being created.

    1. I find it so interesting that he could tell them only to children, and only to children he was related to!


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