Your Story – Pass it Along!

By Linda Goodman

Personal and family stories fascinate me. Why are they so special?

First, they preserve family heritage. Family gatherings produce treasure troves of stories to be passed along from generation to generation. When my family gets together, storytelling is the main event. These stories make me feel like I intimately know relatives that I never met. They also show me different sides of relatives that I thought I knew well.

Second, they are powerful teaching tools. Though I studied the great depression in school, none of the facts recorded in my history books bought home the devastating realities of that period in our country’s history like my father’s stories of survival during that time. His tales of hopping freight trains, standing in soup lines, and working for the CCC made me feel like I was there.

Third, they interpret events. In my story The Punishment, my father takes me into a back room at my mother’s request and administers a fake whipping. For years, I wondered why he did that. As I put the pieces of the story together, I realized that he may have intentionally engineered a scenario to evoke the compassionate side of my mother. This interpretation of events, and the resulting bond of respect and love that developed between my mother and me, is the focus of my story.

Fourth, they nurture community, and this can be bad as well as good. German Nazi stories about atrocities supposedly committed by Jews helped create a community of hate that advocated genocide. Stories about racist atrocities committed in the segregated south helped create a community of shame that lead to the passage of the Civil Rights in 1964. Recently, stories told by those suffering the consequences of lacking health insurance moved me to become a part of a community that advocates for universal healthcare.

Fifth, they possess remarkable healing powers. When my mother died suddenly in 1989, my grief was compounded by the fact that I had not apologized for an argument that we had just before she passed away. A grief therapist suggested that I use my storytelling skills to speed my healing. I wrote The Bobby Pins, a story about a simple birthday present that I had given my mother when I was a child. That story made me realize that my mother knew that I loved her. Our argument was just one moment among many in our relationship.

Sixth, they inspire listeners to become storytellers. People who listen to personal tales are reminded of similar events in their own lives. Indeed, listening to Linda Marchisio tell her personal stories at the first annual Tellabration!™ in 1988 moved me to begin sharing my own.

Personal and family stories are inspirational, soothing, and infectious. They can both illuminate the beauty and expose the beast among us. They give us an unequaled opportunity to examine who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. Through them, we can effect changes in both ourselves and the world.

About Linda Goodman

Author/Storyteller/Playwright Linda Goodman, an Appalachian Mountain native of Melungeon descent, draws on her roots to create a magic world where fantasy and ordinary heroes come together to both entertain and inspire. She also tells traditional tales using a wide array of voices to make characters come to life.

She has performed nationwide at festivals, schools, and conferences and has been published in the Chicken Soup and Stories for the Heart Series. Her one-woman show and book, Daughters of the Appalachians, is available through Overmountain Press and It has also been performed by theater companies in California, Massachusetts, and Virginia.

Contact Linda

(804) 687-6341

21 thoughts on “Your Story – Pass it Along!”

  1. Beautifully put Linda!

    Thank you for the reminder that stories can be used for great harm as well as great good – and that as conduits of powerful emotions and insight they must be handled carefully.

    I loved the vignette of your father during The Depression. I could see him leaping on and off box cars and hard scrabbling his living just through your description. It reminded me of why I did History in University (my first degree) – it was because I loved the stories!

    Blessings to you – and I look forward to hearing many more of your incredible, thought-provoking family and personal stories!

    Geraldine Buckley

  2. You, more than anyone else I can think of, have shown me, through your personal stories, how to extract Story from Memories. I thought I’d never go that route with my repertoire. (“Fine for people with colorful histories; too boring for me to even attempt.”) Now, I treasure the personal stories I’ve worked into performance pieces, and at family gatherings my relatives treasure them because, well, we all need to know from where and from whom we’ve come.

    I don’t know that immortality is all that important, but for sure I do know that you’ve kept your mother and father into this day and time — thanks to your stories about them and about the land and the times that brought them forth.

  3. Linda, I feel privileged to have experienced many of your stories as they were happening and growing. In the long run, though, that is not important, since your stories are alive and dynamic. My own personal stories have expanded to new characters that only exist in my mind. Are they real? Absolutely, because of the universality of their issues, their passions, their commonalities and their sense of community. Long live story! Ubuntu!

  4. There is another item to add to Linda’s fine list of powerful reasons to tell personal/family stories, something that I gain every time I hear hers: they can bring me to part of the world about which I otherwise would never have known.
    I am going to wander off into the technical for a moment, but there is method to my madness. Our brains think in stories. A brain researcher, Rick Granger, discovered that our minds work the same way at every level of abstraction. The process our visual circuits use to connect line segments into outlines is the same process that, at the next level of abstraction they use to abstract outlines into recognized shapes (dog or cat or …). We can’t understand outlines unless we have a strong understanding of line segments. We can’t understand shapes unless we have a library of them to compare to the outlines bubbling up on our brain’s pattern matchers.
    OK, so I get back to stories, we can’t understand the wider world unless we have a lot of stories to roll around in our minds – or we won’t understand the world in a rich and complete way. Without a lot of stories in my head, I can’t comprehend the world in anything but a dangerously narrow picture. Hearing Sherri Geyelin tell about growing up in the depression, or Linda telling about her family stories opens up a new slice of the world for my mind to chew on and enjoy. So the joy of a well-told family story extends far beyond the family.
    A word of warning, however, within the family, a story fragment or informal telling can be a great thing. Outside, however, the teller has to think deeply about her or his tale and be sure that it is story-enough and can stand by itself without a lot of inside knowledge on the part of the listeners. It is very hard to step back far enough from your own world to see if your family story is going to work for outsiders. Good tellers, like Linda, spend a lot of time and worry and practice to get that right.

    1. You are absolutely correct, Ralph. When we are telling our own stories, we sometimes take for granted that others know what we know. Nothing is more important than putting your stories in context. When we moved to the city, my mother looked out the window and exclaimed, “I’ll never reach those clotheslines!” She was looking at telephone poles. When I tell my extended family that anecdote, they, knowing where she came from, realize that she had never seen a telephone pole. People who didn’t know her may think she is ignorant if I do not put the story in context.

  5. As we share family stories – we all have the occasional family member who repeats the same story over and over. While this could be frustrating to many listeners – a close friend told me how he dealt with this type situation with his grandfather. “Grandpa,” said my friend, “You have told me this story before… But, why were you there when … happened.” Another time, he asked, “Was anyone else with you when … happened? Tell me about that.” These leading questions added new dimensions to each story his grandfather told. He said that before long, he knew so many details that he felt like he had been with his grandfather during his youthful adventures. He and his grandpa could laugh and talk about the stories like old friends. That brought the two closer than they had ever been prior to that.

  6. As I read Linda’s article, I was reminded of the many types of personal stories and the many reasons I tell them. I know that today when I sit down to work on my stories her thoughts will be popping through my mind. Thank you Linda for being an inspiration to us all.

  7. wonderful piece, Linda. I loved hearing in your article about how you came to write “Bobby Pins”. What I love about personal stories is that when we craft them and tell them so that they become more than an funny or interesting anecdote, we have to discover why we want to tell a particular story. We have to find out what meaning a particular story has for us, and therefore how it may speak to others. I believe that when we do that work as tellers, and then share that story, we communicate to others that their lives, their stories have meaning and value too.

  8. Linda, you and I are certainly soul mates on the subject of the importance of family stories – and you make the case beautifully. Stories are the heart of the family. Stories are in the memories for those who take the time to mine the treasure. Great post.

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