Lange: Tales from My Father

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(HOST) Last Friday, many people around the country participated in the Annual National Day of Listening – an event that reminded commentator Kerstin Lange of her father, and stories he used to tell.

(LANGE)  "Tell me about way back!"  If I had to come up with a refrain for my childhood, this request would be it. The stories it would prompt from my parents created pictures in my mind that are just as vivid now as they were then.

My father in particular was a fount of mysterious, saga-like stories that purported to explain various more or less mysterious features in the surrounding landscape.  One was about a pond that had a floating island in it.  Supposedly there was a sunken house at the bottom of it – complete with its owner, a cruel farmer who had finally been punished by a horrendous thunderstorm that had pulled him to his watery grave.  According to the story, the chimney of the house can still be seen when the water in the pond is low.
Another story told of how a distinctively-shaped lake was formed.  Apparently, the devil had decided to flatten a particular church with a big chunk of earth from outside of town.  Starting at midnight, he scooped up a giant fistful of earth, leaving behind a large hole that then filled with water, thus forming the lake.  But on his flight to the church the devil must have run out of time as the ghost hour wound down.  Still today everyone can see the two hills just outside of town.  They consist, of course, of the clumps of dirt he dropped.
Much later, my father told me other stories.  Stories about his mother having to leap off her bike and into a ditch when she heard the whine of low-flying bombers, after having biked all day from one farm to another in hopes of procuring something to eat for her family.  Stories about everyone having to get up in the middle of the night and run to the bomb shelter.  

One story, from right after the war ended, still makes my heart stop.  On that day, my father was out and about with some friends near a road, when all at once they heard a blast and saw a horse carriage and a little boy on a bicycle flying into the air.  Apparently a land mine had been left behind or overlooked by the minesweepers, or moved back into the roadway for some reason.  The shock and gore of this scene were – still are – as vivid to me as if I had seen it with my own eyes.  Perhaps this is because I’ve never watched much TV.  

As I reflect on it now, all these years later, I’m grateful that instead of TV my parents gave me stories.  In fact, I wish that everyone had a story like the one about the forgotten landmine – a visceral scene that might help us better weigh decisions of life or death.  This is, after all, what war is about; and, even for a necessary war like the one my parents grew up with, it’s a matter that should never be taken lightly.

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