An Old Man and His Stories: The Importance of Storytelling

Importance of Storytelling

I was expecting a parcel to be delivered to my house on Friday but instead the silly courier delivered it two doors up even though my address was clearly on the box.

But I’m glad there was a mix up because it meant I got to meet a lovely old man named Richard that I wouldn’t have otherwise met. He called the people that sent the parcel who then contacted me to ask if I could collect it.

Because I work from home I’ve often seen nursing cars and home meal deliveries turn up to Richard’s house so I knew he was elderly, but what I didn’t know was how many stories he had to tell!

On our visit to collect my mis-delivered box, Mr. G and I walked through Richard’s front gate and up the stairs. I knocked three times but silly me didn’t see the big sign saying ‘Bell’ right above the button. I rang the bell and eventually Richard answered the door. I introduced myself and explained that he reported that he had received my parcel by mistake and that I lived two doors down. ‘Ah yes, come in’ he replied.

His house was similar to ours, an old Queenslander workers cottage with a similar layout. His carpets were powder pink and there were antique side tables and cabinets lining the hall and every other wall. As we walked through to where he had my parcel in his lounge room I couldn’t help but notice the amazing memorabilia and antiques displayed on his walls and in cabinets. It was obvious he loved cricket, it was playing on the television, there were Sir Donald Bradman memorabilia pieces everywhere, old newspaper articles in frames, antique plates hanging that still had their plastic covers on them…as a lover of antiques and vintage items, I was mesmerised.

We had never met Richard before and so told him when we bought our house.  Apparently we are quiet neighbours and he continued to tell us about the other folks that had lived in our house (including one phony that was arrested for growing weed under the house). He mentioned his house was almost 100 years old (similar to the age of our house) and recalled the names of the first owners of our house who owned it back in the early 1900’s, I knew he was right because I bought the titles of the house to do some historical research. I soon realised just how long he’d been living in the house, I’m pretty sure he grew up there. He told us about how many people he had seen come and go in the street and how upsetting it was to him. I really felt for this old man and couldn’t imagine going all those years seeing so many people come and go.

When we were talking to him, listening to his stories, I was imagining how lonely he would get day in and day out, inside his house by himself. He just wanted to talk to us all afternoon and I would have sat and listened if I could.

He told us about when he joined the army in 1946, he told us about his first job when he was 14 years old and how his parents wouldn’t let him travel to Sydney for it because he was too young. He told us about growing up in our area (we living in quite an old and historical area) and about his dad being an Optometrist and how in the depression times were very hard…he started talking about pounds and shillings and quickly looked at me and said ‘well you wouldn’t remember that would you?’

As we made our way towards the front door we couldn’t help but notice the line of cricket bats he had displayed in the front room, all signed by Queensland cricketers over the decades. Each bat was meticulously labelled with the match, year and team names and wrapped carefully in plastic. He showed them to us and explained the names and the stories behind how he got all the signatures.

I felt bad having to leave Richard, he just loved talking to us and having the company. Oh there were so many things I wanted to ask him about what it used to be like in the street all those years ago, about the cotton farm that used to be over the road and if our house used to have a name like I had found on the electoral roll from 1919.

Memories to Share

When I got home I kept thinking of all the stories he must have to share. It made me wish I still had my grandparents around. It also made me realise the importance of storytelling and my concern that it’s becoming a thing of the past.

I am lucky that my parents have shared stories with me from their childhood and they have also shared my grandparent’s stories with me. It’s changed my perspectives, it’s given me appreciation, it’s given me insight and helped me to develop an identity in terms of my family and where I came from. I have been fascinated with stories of my Dads ancestors raising huge families, losing their farm to floods twice and crossing rivers for food. My Oma and Opa’s story of how they met and how they came to Australia is wonderful and my Mum’s story was eye opening, I certainly had it 100 times better as a child. When Elliott is older, I will share my family stories with him too.

The fact is that the stories of everyday people, their struggles and triumphs, how people once lived, how times were back then…well, they’re disappearing and are being overtaken by the easily consumed, fast paced online media. Everyone is too busy to sit down and get caught up in the wonder of storytelling.

Storytelling is an art that everyone should enjoy either as the storyteller or a listener.  If you haven’t told a story in a while, why not do it soon. If you haven’t heard your parent’s story or your grandparents, why not ask them one day so you can pass it onto your children. Once someone is gone, so are their stories. I will be visiting Richard again sometime soon I think.

Eva Lewis (The Multitasking Woman)

Eva is the Editor and Owner of The Multitasking Woman - a lifestyle and parenting blog.She always has her fingers in many different pies but wouldn't have it any other way. Eva is a Mum to her 4-year-old son, 2 month old daughter, two chickens, one dog and a fish called Bob and a wife to Mr G. They all live happily in their little cottage on the outskirts of Brisbane.

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4 Comments

  1. November 18, 2014 / 7:43 am

    What a nice story Eva. There is such a rich treasure-trove of stories out there when we stop to listen – my grandfather was a great one for stories but sadly one of my nannas died quite young and I missed more of her stories and the other had Alzeheimers – so we should listen while we have the chance. When I was a kid there was an old man who rented the flat downstairs in our holiday house – Mr Chataway (seriously)!. He flew planes in World War I (as in the first world war when planes had been barely invented)!. He flew in the RAF over Germany against the red barons. Pretty amazing.

  2. November 18, 2014 / 9:05 am

    That’s such a good point you make. I caught up with some family recently, who I hadn’t seen in more than 15 years. My father and aunt were recounting tales of their youth and of their parents’ families. Feuds and fallings out, marriages and children – all fascinating to me (even though I’ve heard most of the stories before). The unexpected benefit was the bonding. We might not have seen each other in years, but the time was immaterial because the past is still shared between my cousins and I.

  3. November 18, 2014 / 4:27 pm

    Yes! Thank you so much for writing this so poignantly. It resonates so strongly with me. I have only one grandparent left, my paternal grandfather,and he is full of the most wonderful stories, about Melbourne in the early 40’s, and anything you can think of. I keep thinking that I must start recording them – he is 88.
    I was lucky enough have a lot to do with my great grandmother, who lived to 99 and told so many stories, as well as keeping her Xmas cards from the turn of the century, and her letters from the trenches from WWI, all of which is now in my possession and full of that other kind of almost extinct form story telling – the letter.
    Sorry, I have gone off on my own tangent. You should go back and visit Richard one afternoon when you have time on your hands and ask him about your house, and the street and his antiques. I’ll bet it would be an afternoon to remember.
    Dani @ Sand Has No Home

  4. TeganMC
    November 18, 2014 / 4:40 pm

    What a wonderful opportunity that mix up presented to you. My paternal grandparents passed away nearly 10 years ago but my Granny is still alive. She has some interesting tales to tell because she was living in Darwin when Cyclone Tracey hit. I love hearing about the things that my Mum got up to when she was a kid too.