By Simone Kerwin
IN his final children’s book, The Min Pins, master storyteller Roald Dahl encouraged readers to “watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, for the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places”.
Although they lived a world and a generation apart, this line always makes me think the great Mr Dahl would have got along famously with my parents.
By example, Mum and Dad have shown their brood of nine children and eight grandchildren – and plenty of others besides – that, while it’s wonderful to imagine worlds full of wizards, fairies and unicorns, your own environment is positively teeming with stories just as amazing.
Most Saturday afternoons when I was young, Mum would welcome her own mum for a cuppa and chat.
In the tradition of storytelling that has been central to human life since time immemorial, these two women passed on tales from their own lives and those in whose footsteps they trod, which were pure magic to me, a youngster with an ear for stories.
The snippets I collected around the kitchen table are ones I’ve always remembered, and repeated to my own kids, because as they were for me, they are part of their history, and vital to their sense of place in the world.
With eight children to transport and amuse, Mum often found herself parked in front of shopping centres with a carload of kids, while one of the ‘big ones’ went inside, perhaps to pick up some groceries or a video.
She turned what could have been mind-numbing stretches of waiting into storytime, encouraging us to conjure the back stories of the people walking past us, imagining what they were doing and what they might be saying.
Talk about watching with glittering eyes the whole world around you!
Dad’s storytelling skills would often emerge on Saturday nights as we sat around after tea and shared a block of chocolate.
He’d spin yarns which had just enough realism to leave us wondering whether they were true or not, about growing up with five brothers, about playing footy up north, and about the characters he had encountered around footy and cricket clubs, and in life.
His ability to paint a picture with words so you feel you have been there is, in my view, unparalleled.
Dad’s understanding of how those scenes made himself and others feel illustrates the very essence of storytelling – that it helps us experience life through a different lens, thus creating the kind of empathy we need to operate as good, caring people.
His stories prove the magic of the everyday, and that “the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places”.
The stories I’ve collected from Mum and Dad (and my own experiences) over the years flash back to me as I go about life in the town where we were all raised.
And the people in them become flesh and blood characters my kids love to hear about as much as those they read about in their favourite books.
“See that lady walking ahead of us?” I might ask. “She’s a champion
“That bloke taking bike ed at school? He’s probably worth listening to – he rode in the Olympics and won a Commonwealth Games gold medal.”
“Who’s that man I just said hello to? He’s one of the best footballers country Victoria has ever seen.”
“That white-haired lady in the back seat at Mass? She helped deliver a lot of Wangaratta babies.”
“That fella ambling across the road? He was a key figure in St Kilda’s only premiership.”
“And that lady over there in the navy and white? She was my teacher in prep, grade one and grade two!”
These are story-hungry kids, as most are, who have also relished learning about their Dad’s sporting career, delight in asking him questions, and along the way have enjoyed meeting and knowing people from his story with names like Knackers, Psycho, Whale, Old Man, Pumpkin Head and Chimpy.
They devour the newspaper I help produce, which is further developing the stories of their lives and fleshing out new characters from their own era. They certainly watch with glittering eyes the whole world around them, and remind me to do the same.
Last week before basketball, for instance, my nine year old was perusing a plaque on the wall at the YMCA stadium.
I watched his thoughtful face, wondering what was crossing his mind, then waited as he bounced over and said: “A guy has his name on that sign over there, and has an oval named after him outside”.
I told him he had met that man before his passing, and shook hands with him, and the man had said, “Pleased to meet you, young man. I knew your great grandfathers, I know your grandfather, and now I know you.”
“Wow, so I knew him?” he marvelled, amazed again at his connection to characters in his city’s story.
If he was still alive, Roald Dahl would have turned 100 in September. I think he would be absolutely delighted that some of his final words are still so oft-quoted, and ring so true.
That quote from The Min Pins ends “…for those who don’t believe in magic will never find it”.
Always look for the magic in the everyday. I promise it’s there; sometimes it takes some searching, but it’s always there. That’s one of the greatest life lessons I’ll take from my Mum and Dad….and Mr Dahl.