For today’s Throwback Thursday, I’m sharing the story of a tradition that was passed down in my family through generations. This is the story of storytelling. When I was little, my granddad used to tell me a lot of classic literature stories that he read way back when he was in school. Two of my favorites were Daniel Defoe’s Robison Crusoe and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by stories that featured someone being stranded on an island. One of my favorite books that I had to read as a senior in high school is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (and I love both movie versions), and one of my favorite television shows when I was a kid was “Gilligan’s Island.”
When my son, Jeremy, was small, he had a lot of trouble falling asleep at night because of his overactive brain. (Like me, he has Asperger’s Syndrome, so I completely understand how it feels to be unable to stop thinking long enough to sleep.) So, each night, I used to tuck him in and tell him a story for up to an hour at a time. When we started this tradition, I told him the same stories that my granddad told me. And just like me, the stories that kept him the most interested were the ones that featured people being stranded on seemingly deserted islands. His favorite was Gulliver’s Travels.
Every night, I told him a little bit more about the adventures of Captain Lemuel Gulliver. Of course, I started with the obvious visit to the fictional land of Lilliput. Jeremy was so fascinated, and he had tons of questions, so in order to answer them all, I had to deviate a bit from Jonathan Swift’s version, and make up my own details. (At one point, we had Gulliver and the Lilliputians building a hut out of bamboo… Being autistic, that was one thing that stuck in Jeremy’s mind so much that he became obsessed with bamboo, to the point that we had to go find some so he could see it in real life.)
Of course, all good things must come to an end, so Gulliver eventually had to leave Lilliput and move on with his life. Fortunately, since Jeremy and I share the same type of autism, like me, he also has an audiographic memory and can remember practically everything he’s ever heard. So, as I told him the story, he had no problem remembering all the details of our previous conversations regarding the adventures. For the next several months, it was our tradition to spend an hour or so each night talking about and expanding on Gulliver’s adventures in Brobdingnag, Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, Japan, and Houyhnhnms. Unfortunately for us, however, Jonathan Swift either moved on to something else or didn’t live long enough to write any more about the traveling surgeon-turned-sea-captain. But Jeremy wanted to hear more. So, like any good mama, I did what had to be done to fill the void in my son’s bedtime ritual: I made up some additional travels. We literally continued the story for years.
My son is grown now, and while he doesn’t need to be tucked in any longer, he does occasionally call me into his room to talk right before he goes to sleep. And just sometimes, if I’m lucky, he’ll say something like, “You know we never finished that Gulliver story. We should try to get back to that someday.” I hope that one day if he’s ever blessed with children, he’ll pass on our family tradition of telling them about shipwrecked passengers being stranded on a deserted island with no hope of ever returning to the civilized world and fighting daily to survive. Pleasant dreams!