Telling stories

"Great stories happen to those who can tell them." 

My cousin Robyn made this remark to me at my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary party this weekend, an event at which lots and lots of stories were told. I wanted to attribute the quote to her but she laughed and said that no, she did not come up with it; she had heard someone else say it a while before.
Robyn and Arie, playing farm. 

A quick google search revealed the source of this quote is actually Ira Glass, who many know as the producer and host of the radio program This American Life. 

Ira Glass, you said it. Spot on.

I was born into a family of story-tellers, particularly on my father's side. His parents and their children can tell stories that will cause your whole body to lean forward with rapt attention and they have tales that will leave you breathlessly slapping your knees and throwing your head back with laughter.

Great aunts with my beautiful, joyful grandma! (second from the left)
Aunts, ruining the moment. Or perfecting it, depending on who you ask ;-)
My grandparents tell the best stories because they have so much material to work with. They lived through WWII in the Netherlands. My grandma remembers how one of her grammar school classmates celebrated his birthday during the war by handing our pinky fingernail sized caramels to the class, a treat his mother had probably made from a precious can of condensed milk. We were so lucky, she says, we didn't have a lot but we never had to eat tulip bulbs like some of our friends. That's hunger.

My grandpa, who was a teenager during the war, remembers hiding in a barn, way up in the rafters, as the Nazis came searching- for what I'm not sure- throwing pitchforks through the hay. They didn't find him, thank God.

After the war they both immigrated to Canada. My grandpa flew across the Atlantic on one of the very first passenger planes to make the flight. It was very loud, he says, and cold.

They met- Ralph and Jacoba- at a church function for young adults in Southern Ontario and when they were eventually married they moved into a house without electricity or plumbing. They raised eight children together, all in cloth diapers with a hand crank washing "machine" and a clothesline. My grandpa worked at first as a bread delivery man and then as a butcher in his own shop.
Grandpa and Grandma, married 60 years and still smiling! 
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories from their sixty years together. When I was a girl, one of my favorite things to do was wash dishes with my grandma and hear her stories about coming to Canada and learning English, about raising eight little ones in an old farmhouse with three bedrooms and one bathtub between them, about the fun they had in spite of it all- camping in the summer, ice-skating in the winters, and about the kids getting into trouble with various animals on the farm. My dad has a particularly good one about a time they tried to make a billy goat swim.
My dad's side of the family. Most of them, anyway. 

I hear these stories with amazement. My friends and I- we get overwhelmed because we have to fold all the laundry we pull from the dyer and when our one or two kids won't stay in bed. I don't think I have enough neurons in my brain to imagine eight kids and doing all the wash by hand, let alone gardening, farming, running a business, and preparing three meals a day from scratch, when even your scratch is pretty measly to begin with.

They'll be the first to admit they didn't do life perfectly (we can all relate), but when I hear their stories I am always inspired by how hard and humbly they worked to give their children a better future. My grandma made me smile on Saturday when one of my uncles told her that (because Canada is a commonwealth country) couples who celebrate 60 years of marriage- called a 'Diamond Jubilee' a are able to receive a personal congratulatory letter from the Queen. My uncle was asking my grandma for her wedding certificate so he could apply for the letter, knowing my grandma's affinity for the monarch, and she replied true to form:

"Oh don't bother the Queen with that. She has a husband in the hospital and a grandchild on the way. She is too busy for that."

My grandma doesn't want to bother the Queen. That's who she is.
Listening to her children and grandchildren give speeches and toasts. 

Stories tell us who people are and how they do life. They bring us joy and they serve as cautionary tales. Mostly, they inspire- don't they? They encourage us with a sense of if she could do that then I can do this. Stories are interpretations of history, a way to remind us of meaning and purpose in life.

There's not too much in life that I love more than a good story. What are some of your family's favorite stories?



  1. I have a feeling that you'd really enjoy listening to Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe...

    Side note: I've loved your writing for awhile now. Your adoption journey has blessed so many!

    1. Thank you so much Jen! I am going to check out the Vinyl Cafe!

  2. Anonymous6/17/2013

    Sounds like you have an amazing family with amazing stories... I have 5 children with 1 bath and i too cloth diapered my babies!! Granted things are so different these days. Washer and dryer and velcro and snaps make things alot easier and more appealing. But it'll be a story i can share!!

    1. Hats off Joelle. You are amazing! Yes PLEASE share the story! Such an encouragement to those walking the path behind you!

  3. I loved this post! What an amazing story your grandparents have! :) My mom's parents were married for one month shy of 62 years when my grandpa died last year. :( I learned a ton about him that I didn't know before from his siblings and cousins and even my grandma and mom. :) What I already knew was that he was 9 years old when he lost his right eye in an accident, and he had a glass eye ever since. (That happened in 1939.) He could not be drafted into any military service because of it and that really bothered him, as his brothers and his friends all went off to serve the country without him, at various points in time. He learned how to sew from his mother, and during WW II, he helped her cut fabric to sew underpants for soldiers! (How funny is that? Local department stores recruited local help to sew clothing for the troops.) As a result, he sewed as a hobby for the rest of his life! I have pajamas that he sewed for me when I was 11 as well as the hand-sketched rendering he made with my measurements at that time. I brought it to his visitation to show people, because that was quite remarkable, in my opinion! :) He was also a very skilled and very innovative woodworker who spent many years working at various furniture companies during the "furniture era" of Grand Rapids (MI)... between the 1940s and 1970s. He worked his way up to management and he ended up starting his own furniture company. He tinkered around with different projects and designed very elaborate windmills (decorative) that he installed in his back yard. :) All of my great-grandparents are from the Netherlands (on both sides of my family) so they've all told me a ton of stories about what that was like... but I was always struck by the fact that they loved America and worked very hard to make an impact here. They were all hard-working, God-fearing and very family-oriented and that has continued through the generations. My grandpa was proud of his heritage... we all are! Unfortunately, he suffered a massive stroke back in 1990 (at age 60) that took away his ability to communicate well. He lived for 22 additional years and continued to struggle with that the entire time. But he never lost his talent for woodworking or sewing. He was sewing clothes for my nieces & nephews (his great-grandkids) up until his death last year at age 82. I held his hand as he died and I remember marveling that, when his soul left his body, that was the first time he was able to see without impairment in 73 years! I miss him a ton! My grandma just moved out of their house into a condo. I think the house reminded her too much of him. They had lived there for 58 years. I will always miss that house because I have a lifetime of memories there! But I am happy for my grandma that she made this hard decision that is ultimately what is best for her.

    Oh... and one more thing. :) The story of how my grandparents met is so cute! My grandma was roller skating with some of her friends (she was 17 at the time) and my grandpa was just about to leave, when he spotted her out on the rink. She was taller than her friends and he thought she was gorgeous, so he put his skates back on and skated out to her to introduce himself. (He was 19 at the time.) They hit it off and he knew immediately that she was "the one" for him... but it took a few dates before she felt that way. (She laughs about it now.)

    1. Love that!! You don't meet too many grandpas who know how to sew, do you?? Sounds like an incredible man!

  4. Whoops... slight correction... all of my great-grandparents are from the Netherlands but they weren't the ones to tell me about it... my grandparents were. All of my great-grandparents either died before I was born or when I was very little so I don't remember them. But my grandparents, on both sides, had character traits from their parents that I feel speaks very highly about the people of the Netherlands... at least from that era. They were VERY hard-working and self-reliant and they loved God, their family, and their new country (the U.S.).

    One more story about my grandpa... when he was 18 (before he met my grandma), he had taken a young lady out on a date and, on the way back to her house, they were in a car/train accident! He pulled her out of the passenger seat into his lap just before the train hit and saved her life! He broke his hand in the process but she would have been instantly killed if he hadn't done that. The side of the car she was sitting in was ripped off and they were thrown out the driver's side. God was certainly protecting them that day!

  5. Anonymous6/19/2013


    I just noticed that your son doesn't look like your typical Russian. Does he have some ethnic roots?

  6. Jill,
    You are being very modest in this post because you are one of the best story tellers that I know. That was true when we were kids, and it is even more true now. The Bos Gene lives strong!
    Cousin Robyn.

  7. Jill,
    You are being very modest in this post because you are one of the best story tellers I know. That was true when we were kids, and it is even more true now. The Bos gene lives strong!
    Cousin Robyn.

  8. Your Grandfather, my great-uncle, told a story at my parents 50th wedding anniversary about a month ago now. He is always good for a story or two, or three, depending on how long he is allowed to have the microphone!

    It was an honour and a great pleasure to visit with them, at my parents anniversary, and my parents house the next day for Sunday soup! At the anniversary, my daughter got to be in the same room as parents & grandparents, aunts & uncles, & great-aunts & uncles... Truly a blessing! {and actually, my great nieces & nephews were present as well, so they got to enjoy great-great aunts & uncles!!}

    Your grandparents are truly an inspiration, a heritage that is truly wonderful to be able to be a part of!

    Brenda "Bos" Kulbe (third cousin, fourth cousin?? not sure how that goes ... daughter from a nephew of your grandfather!)

    check out our blog, which I don't write on too often anymore, but hopefully will find the time, once life settles down again for us! www.kulbesineurope.blogspot.com {though we aren't in Europe any longer!}


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