Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Power in Telling Your Story by Jody Casella

A few years ago my husband and I were visiting his parents and I picked up a glossy book off their coffee table.

The book was a compilation of stories and photographs of my father-in-law's family. A genealogist relative had interviewed several elderly family members and this book was the result. A transcript of childhood memories, bits of family and geographical history, funny and heart-breaking anecdotes.

And one jaw dropping confession.

The basic family story was this:

Around the turn of the last century an enterprising young man from Denmark sailed over to America, settled in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, married and had fifteen kids.

Then his wife died, and he went back to Denmark, married his wife's sister, brought her back to Michigan, and they had seven more kids.

The sprawling family lived on a farm in the near-arctic boonies, with the many kids hunting and fishing, tromping off to school and overseeing the younger kids, and life was difficult, but decent-ish until tragedy struck--

The barn burned down.

No one ever knew how the fire started, but the family fortunes, such as they were, took a turn for the worse. The second mother's health failed. A few of the boys ran away from home. Some of the girls had to drop out of school.

These story-tellers were in their eighties when they were interviewed, and they seemed eager to share their stories of their father's crossing over from the Old Country. The hard, but fun times on the farm with their siblings. The barn burning. The aftermath-- when things fell apart.

But life went on, and each person told their personal slice of it. Growing up. Moving into an apartment in town. Joining the army. Getting married. Fighting in a war. Having children of their own.

And growing old and looking back.

Oh, one more thing, said the final man interviewed in the book. Something I've never told anyone...

When I was three years old, I was playing in the barn, and I started a fire. 

It was me. I was the one who burned down the barn. 

When I read this page, I gasped out loud.

I wanted to reach through the pages and hug the man, this clearly lovely person who'd led a long eventful life. A soldier. A husband. A father. A grandfather. But all this time holding onto a secret, until now, finally, finally, he was able to tell someone.

I have no idea how to stay relevant as a writer.

I have no idea what stories are relevant or not relevant.

All I know is that each one of us has a story that is burning inside us, a truth we yearn to tell, and what we wish for is someone to hear it, to hear us. 

to say, I understand.

to say, Thank you for sharing your story.


  1. I adore this story and this message. Each one of us has a story burning inside us...yes. This gets me out of bed each day. Sigh.

  2. Wow! Powerful post. It's true, we all have that secret inside that can be freed under the right circumstances. I remember being part of a treatment conference with a smart female adolescent who was getting all the family blame for their dysfunction. We all told her it WASN'T her problem, that she was the healthy one, so everyone was envious and was trying to drag her down. I wish you could have seen how her expression changed and her eyes lit up. She GOT what we were telling her and was a completely different person once she realized that things were not her problem. Never saw her after she was discharged, but I bet she had a much better life than the rest of her family.

    1. There is so much to be said for telling your story and having someone truly listen. Such a gift you gave that girl.

  3. Wow. Just...wow... this is amazing.

  4. If your blog posts are any indication, Jody, you will have no trouble staying relevant. This was great!