Titanic Connections

titanic connections

Titanic Connections

Titanic: “of exceptional strength, size or power.”

My friend Richard and I were enjoying a rare visit together, sharing breakfast in my home, me happily hosting him as he was in Boulder for a professional visit.

The coffee was hot, the bread made great toast, especially covered as it was in luscious butter + beautiful bright red pomegranate jelly – yum!

Then it hit me:

We would not be enjoying this delicious pomegranate jelly if the Titanic hadn’t sunk.

No, really.

Stick with me, here…

One of the stories I’ve been telling the past 20 years is the true story of my Great-Uncle Ole who survived the Titanic. Olaus Abelseth was one of the few 3rd-class male passengers who survived that tragic disaster; he was my dad’s uncle by marriage. It is a dramatic, engaging story.

The strength of connection

People are drawn to the tragic story, and when I tell “Uncle Olaus Survives the Titanic” people hear facts both new and familiar about that historic event.  But this story’s deep power lies in the connecting to it through the personal story of one survivor.

The size of connection

One of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had was telling the story at the Rome International Storytelling Festival in 2010. I was unprepared for how newly-powerful it would be to tell the story on that side of the Atlantic, to an audience of people from so many of the countries who had sent their hopeful emigrants on that ship.  It was compelling and poignant in new ways, an exceptionally gripping experience for us all.

In that audience was a storyteller from Wales, David Ambrose, who is the program director of the Beyond the Border Wales International Storytelling Festival. He invited me on the spot to come to the 2012 BtB Festival (which would be the 100th-anniversary-year of the Titanic’s sinking) and tell the story there – which I did. Again, experiencing the connection to the story of listeners who had a very different geographical-historical perspective from my American audiences over the years was an instructive and rich experience for me in how stories connect deeply and broadly.

And then the power of family connections…

My immediate family and the family of Great-Uncle Ole’s descendants have unfortunately not stayed in close contact over the years. In the years that I’ve been telling my great-uncle’s story, I’ve often thought that I should – certainly would like to – contact them…let them know I’m telling their dad’s story…hoping that they would appreciate and even approve of my telling it…

Just this past November 2013, I met for the first time Cousin Helen, Olaus Abelseth’s daughter. I had found out from another family member that she’s not only alive and very well, but living in the San Francisco Bay Area (where my grown sons and families live, and I go both to visit family and to gig)!  95-year-old Helen and I got together, and had a marvelous, marvelous time!

3 main results of that get-together:

  • She in essence gave me her enthusiastic blessing on the telling of her dad’s story!
  • She confirmed for me some of the elements I’ve chosen to include in the story (there are conflicts in printed records, imagine that!)
  • I want to be just like her when I grow up!

I had the pleasure of visiting with her and her husband, Jack, for a couple of hours.

And just as I was leaving, Helen handed me a jar filled with sparkling red loveliness.  “Jack wants you to have this. He makes jelly. He just made a batch of pomegranate jelly, and he wants you to have this.” !!!

Richard and I would not have been enjoying that luscious jewel-red pomegranate jelly on our toast, if the Titanic hadn’t sunk.

Connections are wonderful, surprising, and you never know where they’ll lead.

I love storytelling.

Thanks for reading – Pam