In the Blacksmith’s shop

My grandfather was a blacksmith. So was his father before him. It struck me lately how my storytelling abilities and my love for talking and connecting with people comes from them. The truth is, I’ve never met those guys. My great-grandfather died eight years prior to my birth and my grandfather died when I was just four months. But I know them. And I know them well. How come? Because I come from a family of storytellers.

The old days
Back in those days, the blacksmith’s shop was THE place to be in a village. You could go there at almost anytime of the day to find people. Everybody had horses or things to repair so they would just go there, sit on a bench to wait their turn to be served and talk. When you think of it, it was probably the only business in a small village where you could hang out with people without having to buy anything. Just like today’s corner gas station or auto repair service you find in small places: people just go there to talk with others and tell stories.

How have I learned about my ancestors? Even if my father and uncles didn’t take up the business, they inherited the storytelling skills and they passed it on to their children. I know where and how my great-grandfather met my great-grandmother. I know my great-grandmother had another boyfriend before that. I know where they got married, where they moved before coming to my hometown back in 1906. And I even know on which day they arrived at the train station, just a few hundred feet from where they would buy their house and settle down. And most of all, I know all that because of the incredible stories that go with it.

A magical childhood
When I was young, going to my grandmother’s house was like magic. On the small portion of road beside the train station were 5 houses, 3 of them owned by my family. And even after my grandfather died, his shop was still standing there with all the tools he used to work with, which was an incredible playground for me and my cousin. At that time, my grandmother was still operating a grocery store with my aunt and that store was just beside the house. Yes, it meant that we were given free candies sometimes but not too often: my grandmother was pretty good with discipline.

Beside my grandparents’ house was my great-grandfather’s house that was then occupied by my great-aunt. It was the meeting spot for all the extended family and as my grandmother was living nearby, we would end up there pretty often. So I came to know all my great-uncles and my second cousins. And a lot of them were just amazing characters telling stories endlessly. One of my great uncles had a furniture store, the other was a dentist, another one was living in the U.S. and three others were missionaries in Uganda. Just imagine yourself at the end of the seventies, entering a two-century-old wood house decorated in a very old-fashioned style with original African art all over the place. That setting was incredible for a child. Add those famous characters to the conversation (and sometimes the black priests that accompanied my great-uncles to Canada) and you have magical memories.

Telling stories
The ability that my family members have to communicate stories that will last in people’s minds can be strongly related to social media, blogging and podcasting. Because that’s all we do, right? We tell stories to people about interesting stuff. Think about it: which blog posts, podcasts and videos have a lasting memory in your mind? Which is the one you had more fun reading/listening/watching? The answer is probably one that has a personal story that goes with it. Remembering all the stories I’ve heard since my childhood, there are a lot of parallels to be made with social media. So you can expect me to talk about blacksmiths, old times and such in my future posts.

A guy who listen to the podcasts I’m doing asked me last week if I attended any oral communication or radio/tv presenter courses. He thought I was good at communicating and getting people involved with what I say. The answer is, I really have no merit. I just come from a family of terrific storytellers.

Photography by Gary A. K.

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