When the truth doesn’t matter

my dad had the best story to tell

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There was a chest in the corner of the upstairs second bedroom, which is where the photo of the pretty woman from France was.  The bedroom was a holograph of the past.  Nobody slept there anymore and the same crocheted quilt with big colorful flowers on it seemed to have always decorated the bed.

Once in a while, with enough pestering from me, either my grandmother or dad would go up stairs with me where we would sit together on the bed beside the wooden chest.  They would open it and let me choose an item for a story.   Stories that I never tired of.   Stories that connected me to them and us to our ancestors.

My grandmother had lost a daughter to cancer and the room held the memories of her in framed pictures, her jewelry and pieces of her favorite clothes hanging in open view from hooks on the old wooden walls.

One story I liked for my dad to tell me was about how I was named.

“Let me see the woman from France,” I would ask my dad.  He would let me hold the picture, while he told me the story.

“She was beautiful,” he would say.

He would start with talking about being in the Army.  He was a cook and sometimes I think he wanted more interesting stories than he had actually lived.

“Her name was Mechelle,” he would say, trying to make it sound French, which I loved.

“I gave you a beautiful name because you’re a beautiful girl,” he told me.  I was happy he thought I was beautiful.  This was back in the day before we stopped talking to girls about their looks and instead started telling them their smart, which I think is a good progression.  At the same time, I don’t think I was damaged by my father’s innocent compliments.

Of course I asked him once if he loved her and if he thought she was more beautiful than my mother.  He nearly cried.  He cried easily.  I’m a lot like him.

“Oh no,” he said with great emotion.   “Your mother is the only woman I’ve ever loved and the most beautiful woman in the world.”  I believed him and I still do.

“I knew her before I married your mother,” he would remind me.

“Did you ever kiss her?” I remember asking him.  He would smile, as if he was a ladies man and say jokingly, “Maybe once.  The women couldn’t say no to me when I was in uniform.”

I never believed he kissed her and I’m sure that’s exactly how he wanted it.

My mom recently told me that my dad made up this story about the woman in France and about naming me.

“But what about the picture?” I asked her.

“There ain’t no tellin’ where he got that from,” she said.  “He could have picked that up at the dime store,” she added.

I don’t think so!

I knew, even as I believed my dad loved only my mother, that this photo was important to him.

My mother tells me that I was, “supposed to have been a boy and was already named Michael.”   She had been a little too sure of herself.

She said her reason for naming me Michelle is that it was easy to change the name Michael.  A very boring reason right?

I’m going to stick to my dad’s story, which also included telling me he always knew I would be a girl, which is exactly what he wanted.

And did he sing the Beatles to me?  You bet he did!

In loving memory of my dad and his stories of adventure, real or imagined.

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16 responses to this post.

  1. This is a beautiful story! I couldn’t help but laugh as I have my third graders ask their parents how they got their name. This year I have a Shelby named after the character in “Steel Magnolias.” I think your dad’s story is a gift. Invented or not, it’s the thought that counts. 🙂

    Storytelling is our final unit each year, and it’s always my favorite. Years ago my older son interviewed my mother and wrote down all of these things that I’d never heard about. This same son recently told me a quote, “He who dies with the most stories wins.”

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    • Hi Jan!

      Thank you. I’m happy I wrote this story. It’s brought back many fond memories and also some very thoughtful and insightful comments.

      I can’t recall when my dad first starting telling me this story, but it must have been around third grade, because that’s when I was living in the house in the photo. That’s my grandma’s house.

      I remember third grade well because my teacher adopted our dog, well, my mother’s dog, because she said the dog wouldn’t stop biting my dad. I did not like it one bit. The teacher stood in front of our class one day telling about her new dog. That’s how I found out about it! I don’t think I spoke to her the rest of the year.

      This story keeps bringing up other stories, which is very cool, although my third grader dog-taker is not such lovely one, it is still fun remembering.

      That’s a wonderful thing your son did. I recorded my mom telling some stories once and have written a few, but not nearly as much as I would like to. I love hearing her tell me about her life. Personally, it helps me to understand certain things that happened in our lives.

      Thanks for reading!

      Michelle.

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  2. Hi Michelle, Stories are at least as important as reality. In the novel “Thirteen Moons,” a wise Indian chief said (I’m paraphrasing from memory): someone is going to tell a story about you and your events, and it won’t necessarily be positive. Therefore, it’s wise to tell your own story first, and tell it the way you want it remembered.

    As for “innocent compliments,” I think they’re gifts, as long as there’s at least a grain of truth. For a beautiful woman (or man) who is flattered constantly, compliments must seem very superficial and cheap. But for most girls and boys, men and women — most of us are starved for compliments.

    From a person you admire and respect, the simplest compliment can be priceless. A single honest compliment can sustain a person for a year, and possibly a lifetime. Conversely, a year without a compliment is a long time, and the cumulative impact of a decade without compliments can crush the human spirit. (Just my opinion.)

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    • Hi John,

      Thank you for this beautiful and thoughtful comment. What a lovely way you have with words.
      Stories are like you say, “at least as important,” and I guess, have a great deal to do with reality.

      I like what the Indian chief says and it makes me want to hurry up and tell my story.

      I agree that compliments are good and we all need them. There is a lot of difference between flattering a person and giving her or him, “gifts,” with kind sweet words that are honest and come from the heart.

      I had an uncle who only visited us twice a year. I think the compliments he gave me when I was a child did sustain me for many years. You are right about the human spirit. That old saying, –sticks and stones may break my bones, but words shall never hurt me– In my opinion, it is a nice thought, but that’s all it is. In reality, what our loved ones say to us or about us can truly make or break our hearts and spirits.

      Thanks for visiting my blog and I hope you are doing well.

      Michelle.

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  3. Hello.. and such a nice story.. I was always a story teller to my siblings..
    and the song Michelle, ma belle
    These are words that go together well
    My Michelle.

    Michelle, ma belle
    Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble
    Très bien ensemble….

    A beautiful site one I shall revisit. Dreamwalker

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    • Hello Dreamwalker,

      Your avatar is lovely.

      How nice to see the lyrics here. I can feel the way it felt to hear my dad sing it, only not in French 🙂

      Thank you.

      Michelle.

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  4. We get to decide the stories we tell about ourselves. Me, I’d chose your dad’s too!

    I was supposed to be a boy. My mother was French. My father was a cook in the army. — the ‘family’ story is my father lost a case of beer and $20 because I came out a girl. The ‘story’ is my name is Louise because it was supposed to be Louis and it’s easy to add an e to that!

    My story — When I was born, my parents couldn’t get over how incredibly perfect I was. How much they wanted me. How I was all they ever dreamt of 🙂 — I like my story better!

    Louise G

    PS — thank you so much for dropping by my place and leaving a note. I really appreciate what you wrote. You touched my heart.

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    • Hi Louise!

      What a wonderful ‘story’ you have! Thank you for making me smile. I love it when I smile. I’m sure there are good things going on in my brain when that happens 🙂

      I enjoyed visiting your blog. It’s very inspiring and uplifting.

      Michelle a.k.a. dogkisses

      PS Thank you for the sweet note.

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  5. I often think of the stories that my grandparents used to share with me and I wish they were still here to share them with me again. Only this time I would be smart enough to write them down before I forgot them. One of my 4 grandparents is still with me. But he doesn’t talk about the past too often. It’s hard for him, so I don’t ask those things. He will be 90 years old tomorrow.

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    • Hi Deb–
      (I came back to this comment to edit it, now that I’m more awake)

      I wanted to say that I’m sorry you’ve already lost your other grandparents. I’m glad you still have one. I can understand not wanting to talk about the past. Sometimes, I don’t really like watching family videos or seeing photos of certain times, because it reminds me of some sadness or hard time I was going through.

      I too wish I’d written all the stories my dad and grandparents told me. If I could go back… I deleted the rest of that sentence. No sense in thinking like that, you know.

      I hope you get to eat some cake!

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  6. Posted by licoriceroot on February 1, 2011 at 2:36 PM

    I’d stick with your Dad’s version. It was probably the truth in his reality. Everyone needs to know they were wanted for who they are, and it is a beautiful story! You are lucky to have had a father like that!
    Celia

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    • Yes, in many ways, I was lucky. We saw more than our share of hard times. My dad was not without personal demons and problems, but he was much more than that. He loved me, left me with fond memories, good stories and a few good pieces of advice that still help me.

      If he did make this story up, then he must have thought as much about my mother’s version as I do.

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      • “My dad was not without personal demons and problems, but he was much more than that.” Wise, wise words and true of us all.

        A very beautiful memory, indeed! And perhaps, your mother in her love and pain, needed to edit it in a misguided attempt to make you more hers…
        …or perhaps I merely project things I’ve learned about my own life 🙂

        Peace.

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        • hiddenlives, hello–

          This is an insightful remark about my mother and a pleasant one for me. I know she wanted me. When I asked her if she was glad she had a girl, she says, “You were my little doll.” She made children’s clothes for extra money, so I had some very cute outfits. Thanks for sparking that memory too.

          Thank you, and as always it’s a treat to have you visit my blog.

          Peace.

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  7. What a wonderful story. Your Dad sounds like a loving Father to have told you that story. It made you feel more loved and so very important. I’m glad you believe his story, and not your Mom’s. No one is ever too young to to understand romance and love.
    mo

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