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Story Time

The Guideposts senior editor shares how his family loves stories that captures the imagination.

My daughter Frances loves stories. She can’t get enough of them. Brushing teeth, dressing, out on walks, on the subway, putting on pajamas, going to bed—she wants to hear a story.

I’m losing track of my own cast of characters. Once, maybe a year ago, I tried telling Frances a bedtime story. It was about Kelly, my old dog when I was a child. I think in that story Kelly might have climbed a tree to rescue an injured bird. I’m not sure. I can’t remember.

Frances was hooked. She won’t go to bed without a story. And so storylines have multiplied dizzyingly. After Kelly (whose further adventures included hikes in the High Sierra and eating ice cream from a truck that served dog-food-flavored cones) came Racky the raccoon, who lives in Central Park and gets into scrapes with various animal friends, including rabbits, beavers, squirrels, turtles, a cardinal and the rather cynical and citified inmates of the Central Park Zoo.

After Racky came Spencer, a sparrow who got lost one day in New York and ended up nesting in the Fifth Avenue apartment of Alexander, an elderly homebody who likes oatmeal, reading by firelight and watching snow fall in winter.

Jeremy the mountain lion lives in Crystal Cove State Park, one of my favorite places in Orange County, California, where I once worked. Most recently Jeremy and his mother had to deal with a domesticated parrot that escaped from nearby ritzy Laguna Beach and ended up at the entrance to their den. Paul, the parrot, was quite snooty and disdained the mountain lions’ various attempts to help him.

Oliver and Olivia are elves whose house backs up to the Deep Dark Woods where the elusive Pixies live. Rusty and Mary Jane are brother and sister rats who boldly led their rather large rat family from a grimy New York street to the garbage-strewn paradise of a New Jersey dump.

Just this morning, while brushing teeth, a new character appeared: Mr. Bultitude the Bear, who does everything very slowly. It took him the entire tooth-brushing session just to decide what to have for breakfast (he settled on salmon).

Frances of course is not alone in loving stories. Her preschool teachers hold the kids rapt with tales of vacations (which apparently is how Frances learned that bison “are very, very stinky”), childhood adventures, even the students’ own antics from previous school years.

Once, on the way to school, Frances and I passed her friend Maddy walking with her mom. “…And so the fairy said…,” I heard the mom say. Maddy, Mom told me, won’t walk to school without a story.

I’m fascinated by all this. A certain look comes over Frances’ face when she hears the words, “Once upon a time…” It’s her story face, a dreamy intentness shutting out the rest of the world. She plunges down an imaginative fissure, somehow trusting that whatever she finds in the depths will matter.

We all do this. We all love stories. We love them, I suspect, because no matter our particular beliefs, we are hard-wired to seek truth in narrative, a kind of truth we can find nowhere else. Stories are by definition untrue. Yet we look to them as one of our surest compasses. We all get the story face. We all go trustingly down the imaginative fissure.

How many stories will I tell Frances before she finally tires of them? Perhaps she will never tire of them. How I would love that.

Jim Hinch is a senior editor at GUIDEPOSTS. Reach him at jhinch@guideposts.org.

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