The Gift of a Story

Our neighbor is 96 years old and she still goes for a walk severalchicken-petting times each week. Very slowly she makes her way along the pasture fence between our properties. Then she turns around and goes home, carefully avoiding the ruts in the dirt road.  I have gone out to greet her only occasionally.

A simple hello always means a commitment to thirty minutes, or more, of conversation. I know that’s not much in the larger scheme of things. And, it means so much to older people when you give them the gift of time. But these days life seems to be all a rush and time is a precious commodity. Often my husband reminds me that I’m not keeping up with everything I have committed to do. I get stingy.

That’s why I’m pleased to share what I’ve learned about another gift we can give each other. It’s the gift of Story. Yes, it takes time. But it’s fun too and it fuels the imagination. Here’s how I learned about it.

Last week, I saw Florene on her walk and knew it was way past time to say hello. It had been weeks since I’d seen her. She deserved a few minutes of chitchat. So I headed out the door. And sure enough she was happy to see me and eager to talk. We visited by the roadside and then I invited her to come and see the new horses in our yard.  She’s a country lady through and through and had hinted that she was wondering about the new equines in the neighborhood.

While I was pointing out the names of the horses, one of our chickens came up to Florene. The hen, who was named Fred by the children, made a throaty cackling sound that tells me she’s happy and curious. Fred circled around Florene’s legs.

It had been years since Florene had spent time with chickens, she said. She bent down to pat Fred on her back and Fred squatted obediently to receive the touch. When Florene looked to me for understanding, I said, “That’s the first time I’ve seen her do that. These are new chickens and they normally avoid most humans. She really seems to trust you.”

the-friendly-chickenFlorene chuckled. “Well she’s an awfully cute chicken. I have always liked animals.”

A few minutes later we were walking down the road, and Florene’s daughter was coming out to see why her mother had disappeared.

“Laura dear, you’ll never believe what just happened,” Florene began. “A chicken came right up to me! Judith says she never does that with other people. But that chicken hunkered down to let me pet her. She is so soft and beautiful. You should go see her. It was just wonderful.”

I realized in that moment that the best gifts are so very simple. Maybe the best gift of all is a story. Florene has a new gem of a story about her friend the chicken. It will make her smile for many days. And it was such an easy gift to offer.  All it took was to interpret what she saw. “That chicken runs from people…everyone but you. It must be that the small creature sees beyond wrinkles. Animals know things about people.” All of that came across to Florene.

So many times I have missed the opportunities to give gifts like that. Maybe it’s because I’m not paying attention, I’m rushing around or I’m simply unwilling to give. But I see now that my children need story affirmations like that. My husband needs story affirmations.

For example, our Blue Heeler only “talks” to my husband. It’s amazing to see as the dog sits before him and modulates her voice in conversation. They have regular talks. But it happens often enough that I have taken it for granted. Now I see that telling my husband the story of what I see occurring between him and the dog would be an affirmation, a gift.

I’m going to record the story of my son’s football year–it’s a story about coming into manhood. I want to share the story of my daughter amazing cake award so that she’ll see that all things are possible when you put forth effort.

There are so many stories. And I see now that this is a gift that goes beyond meaningless chitchat chewing up time. It is minutes spent in observing and sharing. It is an image that can be preserved and savored.

About the Author: Judith Costello and her family live in rural New Mexico. They call their place “Sagging Acres.” Judith and her husband, Jurgen Haver, are the creators of the website

About Judith Costello

A certified art therapist, Judith is the author of numerous articles and books on parenting and child development, including Zen Parenting. She writes from Moriarty, New Mexico.