- Stories of Our Lives: Memory, History, Narrative by Frank de Caro
In many respects, the title of this book is misleading. It is really a memoir—the story of Frank de Caro’s life as it is informed by stories. In other respects, because the book presents a range of stories and examines their roles in society and their uses and meanings for individuals, the book speaks to larger issues of the nature of stories and storytelling. This discussion [End Page 110] and analysis are present throughout the book, but are especially notable in the afterword, entitled “contexts and Meanings.”
The first four chapters detail family history on both sides of de Caro’s family; thus there are stories of immigration and Americanization, of how grandparents met, of several generations of the family vacationing in the same house. In addition, de caro shares a number of stories about the neighborhood where he grew up, so that we learn about local characters, traditional games, and nicknames of subway trains. There are also a number of stories about the scene in the East Village of the 1960s, where de Caro had an apartment, and of his experiences as a social worker.
Stories also frame de Caro’s educational experiences, so that we hear about friends and locations associated with prep school and graduate school at Johns Hopkins in creative writing, that also influenced the kind of writing and storytelling that de Caro would do. There is also an entire chapter devoted to de Caro’s doctoral studies in folklore at Indiana University, where we hear stories about fellow folklorists—including his future wife, Rosan Jordan.
While family stories comprise nearly half of the chapters, stories about India also mark both significant parts of the book and phases in the author’s life. The first chapter of the book is nearly evenly divided between stories about his mother’s side of the family and discussion of de Caro’s fieldwork in England and Ireland with men and women who had served in the Indian Civil Service during the Raj. Chapter 7 examines the stories that de Caro incorporated into his repertoire during his time in India as a Fulbright scholar, and chapter 10 is devoted exclusively to the stories of those Indian Civil Service members discussed in chapter 1.
The stories of India and Mexico, as de Caro points out, often have dual interpretations, in that they are often about “the Other,” about experiences in locales and with people and events radically different from one’s own. In essence, these stories are about culture shock. At the same time, however, there is familiarity because one has lived in a place and become friends with “the Other.”
When de Caro and his wife retired, they moved from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, where they were living when Hurricane Katrina struck. The final chapter tells of their relatively fortunate circumstances of having been able to leave town beforehand, of having different friends throughout the United States take them in, and of having very little damage to their house. Consequently, de Caro has only one story of his own “exile,” but, being a folklorist, he heard a number of stories that he recognized as being urban legends or parts of larger narratives that expressed the narrators’ concerns about city government, police, crime, and what really happened with the levees.
All of the chapters have endnotes that provide bibliographic sources both for quotations and for additional references. There are also supplemental stories, and there is further information about some informants, terms, and historical and societal events and incidents.
Almost all of the chapters conclude with a recapping of many of the stories told in that chapter and discussion that places them in a context larger than their impact on de Caro’s life. This context may include connections to the cycle of stories about American pioneers in the Old West or immigrant experiences, wealth gained or lost, characters met in one’s neighborhood...