The Red Tent by Anita Diamant has been gathering dust on a top bookshelf downstairs for at least ten years. I started reading it once but the turned down page corner confirms that I only read to page 9. I started reading it again a few days ago. I am not sure yet whether I will finish it – – but I am underlining in the 4 page Prologue. Anita Diamant has pricked a nerve that needed a prick.
In the 1980s I was diving deeply into genealogy waters – looking for “my women” and finding things I never knew about those “survivors” who nourished my deep North Carolina tap root. I wanted to tell my family, especially my daughters, about them but only Jim listened to the stories. The others found the chorus of begats boring. Then I stumbled upon storytelling for grown-ups. I squeezed Jim’s arm one evening when we were listening to a fine storyteller tell about her father – “I am going to do that – – and they are going to come.”
That’s when I say I became a storyteller – although I was born and raised by women who were good North Carolina talkers and I learned to tell stories as they told them.
The second sentence Diamant writes for the character in the Prologue is, “my memory is dust”- meaning her story has not been told.
She goes on –
“If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully.
Stories about food show a strong connecton. Wistful silences demonstrate unfinished business. The more a daughter knows the details of her mother’s life – without flinching or whining – the stronger the daughter.”
There follows a page on what women and daughters share over the chores they do together and then she rocked me again.
” But the other reason women wanted daughters was to keep their memories alive.”
The character says ” I carried my mother’s stories into the next generation —-”
Then, ” I wish I had more to tell of my grandmothers. It is terrible how much has been forgotten, which is why, I suppose, remembering seems a holy thing.”
The Red Tent is a mid-rash on the life of the Biblical woman Dinah whose story is untold. Diamant’s reconstruction and re-telling is brilliant. However, I doubt I will finish reading Dinah’s fresh story. Anita Diamant has made me realize that I have a lot of work to do in a shortened time. To tell my story – and to refresh the survivors’ stories I have gathered.
I owe this to my daughters. My grand-daughters need to learn their maternal line stories first, maybe later they will have interest in mine. I don’t expect my grand-sons to have much interest at all – maybe their wives will be curious as I was about Jim’s family.
Grateful to have storytelling to use as a vehicle for sharing the stories. Perhaps,like Diamant, I will say something that will spur others to look for their stories.