Family & Story


‘Thou shalt not’ is soon forgotten, but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts forever. -Philip Pullman

For as long as I can remember, I have always been enamored with the power of a well told story. And family provides the network of the deepest and most important stories of society.

To know my family, is more than just stopping by at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Fourth of July. To say we are a family steeped in tradition always seems to puzzle people. We are a large mid-atlantic, blue blood family — a true American family; where family and putting others first is always top priority. Stories are the creative conversion of life itself; they are the currency of human contact and the currency of our family is story. Not the “Once Upon A Time” kind of stories, but real stories of our family.

Like most families we have our share of stories, the holidays seem to stick out the most in ours. There is something “Rockwellesque” about the holidays – something vivid and affectionate about Advent in our family. While many would look at our family and say we’re idealistic or sentimental, I would say our family is a true portrait of American life. During Christmas there is always a slight anticipation and yet a hesitation, of who will tell the first story, as the whole family stands in the kitchen while Mom and Grandma baste the turkey and my Uncle Jack sneaks a piece of the moist skin off the festive bird.

One action always seems to set off a chain of events that roll our lives out in story for the hours to come. Recounting fond memories of badly made mash potatoes, the time we all went shrimping and nearly got eaten by alligators, and the time a crab chased me around the house. These are far from tall tales, you know the fish that got away, but these where true stories told in a way that absorbed everyone into the story. The great orchestrator, my Grandfather. He knew what drew someone to a story, what inspired them, and always wove in a clever twist. We have a saying in our family, “when DB Spatz talks we all listen.”

The twist in this story, is our family’s love for the Advent Season. A time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. A time we cherish so much. Advent in it’s purest form means “coming.” In life we celebrate four magnificent seasons and this past year we celebrated the advent of winter with the passing of my Grandmother on December 17th during the last week of Advent and my Granddad who slipped into eternity on November 28th starting the first week of Advent. And today is a sad day in our family as we lay to rest a wonderful man, my Granddad, Donald Bernell Spatz who was 87. A man who in many ways was my other father and someone I saw everyday from birth until I moved from Pennsylvania. He was a man of great honor who made an incredible impact, but I will always remember his stories, his snicker when he would laugh, and of course his big hugs when I would leave. I got one of those hugs the day before he passed and along with a slight whisper in my ear that he loved me… and how proud he was of me.

Advent for my family, now has more meaning in our family’s story. They say a human life is a story told by God. If that is true, and I believe it is, than my Grandfather lived a wonderful story for his country and for his family. He will be missed, but we’ll have his gift of story for many years to come.

You can learn more about Donald Bernell Spatz – HERE

Matt Knisely

Matt Knisely is an Emmy Award–winning visual storyteller, creative director, and author who loves telling stories of the extraordinary. Make sure you check out his book Framing Faith, it helps connect the seemingly unconnected, see the beauty right in front of us, and revealing how to be present in the moment.

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  1. Thanks for sharing… praying for you today. Love you and your family!

    • It will be a tough one, but thank you for being great friends and for your prayers.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Denice Erway, Matt Knisely. Matt Knisely said: Published a new post: Family & Story #storytelling #story […]

  3. This was a beautiful tribute and a lovely window into your family life. Thanks for sharing, Matt. God Bless.

    J_harhai // Reply