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Family Story Essay: Topic

Think back to past gatherings of your family, either around the table with your parent(s) or on a visit to a relative for a holiday. In every family there are stories told of past events: the time when your father was a boy and accidentally put a sling-shotted rock through the evil neighbor's window; or grandpa's story of walking ten miles through snow and ice to get to school; or the time when, as a young girl, you put your kittens in the washing machine to clean them!

The type of story you want to focus on is one that is told often. It comes out of your own family's oral tradition.

Here's how to get started on this essay (follow these steps exactly):

First, jot down briefly a number of these type of stories you remember. For example: tuna fish story, grandma's "wee beastie" story, dad's slingshot story.

Next, choose one of these stories to work on for the moment. Freewrite on the story for about ten minutes, trying to retell the whole thing as you recall it. By "freewrite" I mean to write without stopping for ten minutes.

Third, get a blank sheet of paper and list as many details, impressions, and phrases as you can recall. Also list details that you remember from the actually telling of the story such as where you have heard it before, when it's told, and who tells it. Some of these details of the story may need to be filled in by your imagination since you perhaps were not there when the story happened. Just get as much stuff down about the story as you can; don't worry about any sort of order.

Last of all, retell the story as fully and completely, and as entertainingly, as you can. Be as descriptive as you can, and include dialogue where needed. Imagine that your audience is your peers as well as your family and the original storyteller, and that your purpose is to get the original storyteller to nod their head and say, "yea, that's it, you told it just right." Try to practice showing and not telling.

Note: If using a story from your family does not work for whatever reason, you can use a story from among your friends. The one criteria is it is a story that is "told often."

Here is a sample story for you to look at:


As we drive along listening to the pitter-patter splat of the rain on the windshield, I stare at my watch dreading each minute that passes as we proceed along IH-37. Fifteen minutes remain until we reach our destination, which is Aunt Mona's house. I stare out the car window and watch the blue sky quickly becoming amber as the sun begins to set over the horizon. It is seven o'clock as we reach the gates of Fort Sam Houston. I begin to wish that we would turn around and go home, but we proceed, as always, checking our seat belts as we enter the black iron gates of the Fort. My anxiety reaches its peak as we round Artillery Post Loop, and I inhale a deep breath to calm myself. There it is: a huge red brick, two-story, nineteenth century house that is rumored to be haunted by a ghost named Alex. It is Aunt Mona's house. It is absolutely too late to turn back now. I'm forced to attend another Garcia family get together.

As I open the car door, I hear my mom ask, "Where's the invitation?" We are early again. You see, the Garcia's have a family tradition they each share and pass on which is to be "fashionably late" to every family get together. My mom after thirty-five years of marriage to a prompt Martinez has given up on that family tradition.

The clock on the fireplace indicates that it is 7:15 P.M., and I hear the click-clack of heels on the hard oak floors and echoes of greetings bouncing off the ten foot high ceilings. I step into the hallway and begin to mumble a hundred or so, "I'm fines," to every cousin, aunt and uncle who steps through the doorway. Once everyone has arrived, we gather into the living room and the old family tales are dredged up and retold. My uncle Mac begins the story telling with a childhood memory from his days of picking cotton on the ranch.

As the laughter drifts upward and disintegrates as it hits the ceiling, the room falls silent with anticipation--who will begin the next story?

"I remember when," blurts out my mom. My earlier feeling of dread returns, and I inwardly plead with mom to tell about the time my brother, Bobby, and my cousin, Ralph, set fire to my parents '62 Chevrolet. "I stayed late at work," continues my mom. My mother's voice fades as I remember back to that day, while she continues telling the story. My dad and my brother had to stay and take care of me because mom was working late. Bobby was hungry so he asked me to make tuna sandwiches for ourselves, and I agreed. I went into the kitchen pantry and rummaged around until I found a can. I can still hear the pop of the tuna can as it met the can opener. The soft whir-whir of the can opener and the smell of tuna drifting in the air, and I hear my brother say, "Hmm-hmm that smells good." I served my father and brother, and they commented on how good the sandwiches were and thanked me.

When mom returned from work, she asked if we had eaten anything. My dad told her about the sandwiches I had made them. Mom looked at us puzzled and asked, "What tuna?" Suddenly everyone got excited and began questioning where the tuna or whatever it was had come from.

I was brought out of my daydream to hear my mom say, "It was cat food!" Instantly, the laughter boomed and echoed through the room. I tried to protest over the roar of laughter, but to no avail. Soon I was forgotten, and the laughter turned to a few chuckles as the room slowly fell silent in expectation, and the story-telling resumed.

Cuentos Project Option:
Find the oldest person available to you in your family. Interview them about their life, and probe for old stories about them or your ancestors. Find a gem of a story and tell it for your "Family Story." This is similar to an oral history project.

Essay Resources:

The Power of Description
Description Examples

Sentence Structure and Punctuation
Bedford Guide for College Writers Resources
Read chpt 41on Punctuation
Read chpt. 38 and 39 on Sentences.

Other Family Story Examples
Obama's Family Story
Revising the Family Story


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