Every story, from “Romeo and Juliet” to A Christmas Carol to X-Men’s Wolverine, shares a set of basic, fundamental parts. Regardless of writer or genre, stories will always have a beginning, middle and end. From the start, they’ll follow the line of rising action until reaching their climax and, be it satisfying or not, reach some sort of conclusion by the end. Sometimes, we learn more about our character’s life prior to the first page through an origin story. For the star-crossed lovers, we learn of a feud between two rival families. For Ebeneezer Scrooge, it was his mother’s death and a broken engagement that made him say “Bah Humbug” to all things Christmas. And for Wolverine, you need look no further than his movie “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” to get insight into what made him the rough-riding, cigar-smoking mutant he is today.
These, like all stories, follow this same basic formula. It’s a formula I was constantly exposed to growing up as anyone who knows my family knows this: the Messink’s are storytellers. As far as I can tell, it’s a talent that’s been inherited and fostered in each of my brothers, my parents, and myself. Even my brother Vince, a man of few words, has been known to tell an occasional story that makes those who hear him crack a smile as laughter ripples through the room. Each in their own way, the members of my immediate family have honed their craft and perfected the art of storytelling through the years. For me, I can pinpoint exactly where my origin as a storyteller lies.
Picture this: it’s summertime in the early 2000’s. Gwen Steffani was making it clear she was no Hollaback Girl and Destiny’s Child still topped the charts with soulful stylings like “Bootylicious” and “Crazy in Love.” A child, no older than 6 or 7, sits across from his mother. His brothers flank him on each side, staring wide eyed at their grandfather as he tells them stories about his life. The topics range widely: laying brick at 14, watching a man die, living life in the Old Country. Regardless of where the stories took us or what they were about, the Messink boys stayed glued to their seats, enthralled with his tales or requesting their favorite ones. The doorbell would ring and a child’s voice would carry to the table, politely inquiring if one of us could come out to play. But the Messink boys weren’t going anywhere.
Looking back, I understand now just how fortunate I was to have a Grandfather who always had a story to tell. Now that he has left us, he lives on in those stories, in my brothers, and in me. I thank God every single day that I knew, even at a young age, that the times I spent at the table with my Grandfather were invaluable. Not only did I come to know him in a different, more holistic way but my Grandfather also imparted a love of storytelling in each of us. By giving us the gift of his time and patience, we each grew more like him–ready to make the most out of life and, in the face of trials or adversity, to use it as material for another story.
My Grandfather was a beautiful man, inside and out. He really did live his life to the fullest and loved every single minute of it. Not even hospice care could slow him down–he stood in the kitchen, with oxygen cannulas in his nose, making meatballs with my cousin and me. He was a man who’d gone and seen the world, lived through it, and shared the stories of his adventures with the rest of us. I have no doubt that my love of storytelling began that day, in the summer of early 2000’s, when he told me the story of taking my Grandmother’s wedding dress across the sea with him. It was a tale so timeless that I can hear him telling me, even now, how he made friends with the captain and the Maître d’. There are countless friends and relatives that have contributed their time and energy into making me what I am today. But years ago, when I visited my grandparents in Las Vegas with my mother, I realized how big a role my Grandfather had had to play and I can’t help but miss his voice. But I know he’s waiting for me, and my mom and brothers too, with a cup of coffee and “just one more” story to tell.
Stay safe. Stay hopeful. Stay telling stories.