I was in my homeland (Washington State) visiting my parents who are both in their spry eighties. My dad and I were having our morning cappuccinos. The birds were singing, the sun was shining, and there were no state disasters. It was a good day.
“Did I ever tell you about the time I had coffee with Robert Redford?” my dad asked. My dad is a great one for the associative storytelling non sequitur.
“No, you haven’t, but please do.”
I adore his stories. They’re like finding sea glass on the beach—little jewels buried in the sand. Beautiful, if you can find it. That’s the thing—it’s hard to get the stories. As a writer, I want to sit him down and say “Tell me everything about your life from start to finish.” But that’s not how life stories work.
“Well, one time I was with some buddies and we went to Sundance, that ski resort in Utah that Robert Redford owns, and the place wasn’t opened up yet. I was early,” My dad is a crack-of-dawn kind of guy. “You know how I am,” he said, taking a sip of his coffee.
“Yes, I do,” I said, sipping my own coffee. I had learned as a child, the hard way, to be showered, dressed, packed, and prepared to leave way before dawn.
“So we’re outside the lodge waiting for the place to open and a guy pulls up in a Ford Bronco. It’s cold. He’s covered up with a hat and big winter coat. I’m thinking good, it must be the cook, maybe he’ll let us in and we can get a cup of coffee,” my dad said. “We find out pretty quick it’s not the cook. It’s Robert Redford. He makes us coffee and I ask about where the best ski runs are. I want the inside scoop and who better to ask than the guy who owns the place.”
He paused. “He makes good coffee.” End of story. No autographs, no fawning, Robert Redford is just a man talking man-to-man about skiing. And that other man happened to be my dad.
The real point of this blog is to remind myself, and all of you, that you need to get your elders’ stories because when they’re gone so are the stories. Their life stories made them who they are and they, in turn, created you. These memories are the most important part of your inheritance as a human being. Our humanity is in our shared histories. Don’t drop the ball on this, and for chrissakes, write the stories down. It’ll simplify things for the next generation and the ones after that. We all have stories to tell—all you have to do is listen.