“Did I ever tell you the story of how I lost my finger?”
As a child, these words from my grandfather would always make me prick up my ears. He hadn’t lost a whole finger, just the top section of one of them, but it was enough to add an air of mystery to him, and I – and his other grandchildren – would listen with rapt attention to the tales he told.
Because there wasn’t just one tale, there were many; each one with its own exciting highs and (finger) crushing lows. There was the one where, walking in the alps, he had saved a cable car of people from plunging to their doom by putting his finger into the mechanism, bringing it to a halt moments before it plunged its terrified occupants off a cliff. Another version involved him stopping a dam from bursting (which would have drowned a village full of children) by putting his finger in it, and having it bitten off by a passing shark. Other stories had him stopping a runaway train, encountering a toothy ghost in a haunted house, and inventing a new flavour of ice cream when his finger got caught in the mechanism of one that only produced vanilla (eurgh!)
Of course, we kids knew that not all of these stories could be true. In fact we guessed – even then – that none of them were and that the perils and heroics were purely for our benefit. But that didn’t matter and took nothing from the thrill of his stories, especially with a real missing bit of finger as a prop!
My grandfather’s tales are one of my favourite childhood memories, so when we visited my grandparents last weekend it was with genuine pleasure that I watched him (aged ninety-one) tell my boys ‘the tale of how I lost my finger’. The sight of their awed expressions and hearing their excited giggles and gasps took me right back to my own childhood and I felt very lucky to be able to share in this moment between a great-grandfather and his great-grandsons.
I love stories in all their forms but there’s something about this passing of tales face-to-face between generations of family members that feels like storytelling at its purest. I hope that by sharing these stories with my sons we can continue this family tradition down the generations for many, many years to come.