Lately, we've been doing "fire stories" before bed, which means we turn off all the lights and sit in front of the fire and I tell a story.
Sometimes the stories are completely made up, like "Ice cream" which has various people from our family heading off to buy my sister an ice cream cone only to get distracted. My kids love to decide which cousin they will play with and what activity they will do (build a sandcastle, splash in the water, ride boogie boards . . . ). Eventually, she heads off to get her own cone, and one by one everyone tags along to get an ice cream too.
Sometimes the stories are true, like the story Brian told the other night of the night we got engaged.
Sometimes the stories are partially true and partially made up, like the story of taking the train to Boston to ride the swan boats (true) and running into other people from our family as the train stopped along the way (made up).
Tonight, Kathleen asked for a story about "me and Lizzy and mom and dad."
"Okay, a true story about mom, dad, LizzyB, and Kathleen."
"And Henry!" she added. "And Bandit."
"Okay, but it has to be partially made up because Henry and Bandit weren't here when you were."
So I told a the story of our family camping trip, when we all went in the canoes to go blueberry picking. The boys, Brian, Henry, and Bandit, went in the blue canoe. The girls went in the green one. All five of us, and our dog, camping, canoeing, picking blueberries, seeing a bear. It's not so hard to imagine this being a true story.
Next summer, we plan to try camping with the girls. We will go with our one canoe. If the timing is right we will pick blueberries right along the shore as we paddle. It isn't inconceivable that we would see a bear. But Bandit won't be there to bark at a bear or at us as we paddle (he never did like the water or seeing us in or on it). And Henry won't be there sitting in the front of Brian's canoe. He may be in there in our hearts. He may be among the countless stars of the night sky that we see as we sit, telling stories, around the fire, but he won't be there in the canoe or in the tent. And yet, how easy it is to weave him into our family stories.