Old Enough For Fairy Tales Again

Old Enough For Fairy Tales Again

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Il était une fois - There Was A Time

My mother never read me stories. But that does not mean she didn't tell me fairy tales. Raised in a French convent school in Istanbul, my mother read literature and religious books, studied science and math. She debated theology and metaphysics with the Jesuits that taught these classes. But I do not think the Brother's Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault, or Andrew Lang were part of her curriculum, Still stories are in our blood, or so I believe (hers, mine, and all of ours), and fairy tales especially.

My mother never read me stories, yet that doesn't mean she didn't tell tales. Her every recounting of the past took on a storied air. Maybe it was the difference of language; she spoke fluent English, but it wasn't her first language or her second. Maybe it was something in her rhythms or her blood. I do know there were few tales she was willing to tell and so those were repeated over and over until they gained through knowledge and anticipation an aura of familiarity and something else, something more, maybe portent? She never said we were the same, that her stories would be mine, but I wonder if beneath these oft told tales was the implication of just that.

My mother's stories were nearly always about her. I do not even know the story of my own birth, nor have I asked, but I do know the story of hers. By the time I learned to read at three, I told my own tales, the need so great for narratives that I gave them to myself, found them the best and only way I could, and recounted them with themes and variations each and every day.

When my mother did tell stories they were often as she was putting on her make-up. I would lay on the bed, my belly pressed against the mattress, the scent of my mother's perfume surrounding me even in her sheets and bedspread. She was everywhere, embodied in flesh and assemblage, or at least her mask was. Her house has always been her persona; I may have grown up there but it was never home. She would apply her moisturizer then her foundation. There'd be eye make-up, mascara and blush. And in-between she'd tell a story, maybe about the dances she went to, her first love, her time in school, meeting my father. Her tales began the French way, although I never realized that until now. "Il etait une fois,"she would sayand it would begin, the tale would be spun and spin a world into being.
I came to think this might have been just how God made the world, in the simple act of telling Himself.

It's genius, these ritual beginnings. "There was a time," suggests there was, and is, and will be again. There's hope
in those words, that things can change, that we can love again and be loved, that we have come from somewhere
to somewhere, and have miles to go. It doesn't matter it's "once upon a time," the Turkish, "there was, and there
wasn't," we learn about the world in those tales, whether they be the established canon, or lives made magic
and mythic by a few simple words that place those lives, us, into a flow of time and beyond it. My mother
never read me books but she did tell me stories. This is what we were born to do, tell ourselves and each other
like the storytellers in the square, for money or not, mostly for the sheer love of words and tales and times past
and present and yet to come. We are each of us writers, even if we never put pen to page (or fingers to keyboard).
We write ourselves. We tell our lives with every action, every word. It is both thrilling and terrifying, but mostly
thrilling. It took me almost fifty years to figure this out and only when I was old enough to turn to fairy tales again.

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