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Grandpa – by Holly McClelland


We are pleased to present posts by StoryCenter staff, storytellers, colleagues from partnering organizations, and thought leaders in Storywork and related fields.

Grandpa – by Holly McClelland

Root Barrett

Holly McClelland is a graphic designer, artist, filmmaker and StoryCenter co-facilitator who lives in Boulder, CO. She's an aspiring mycologist and an expert rock skipper.

When I took the 3-day workshop at Stonebridge Farm, outsideof Boulder, CO, in June of 2011, I thought, “Well, yes!” My good friend, Cyns Nelson, had given me her spot. Or told me about a spot that had opened up. I can’t remember which. But I was in.

I asked if my partner at the time, Annie, could come take the workshop, too. Yes was the answer.

Around the story circle, I had decided I’d tell the story about my grandpa, who was 89 at the time. And I’d write and tell about how he’d learned to fly airplanes at the age of 73. Ah, how easy that story would be. How safe. I’d always admired and loved him, and felt honored to tell a part of his story.

And Annie, in my ear, suggesting other ideas, thoughts. The lap around the circle then came to me, and somehow this other story just came out. About how I’d just met my dad, again, after 22 years. All those raw feelings, expectations, whatever. And so it came.

It came. With birds singing in the background of the farm, and pooh sticks thanks to Allison. Deep listening thanks to Daniel and Kayann. Kale and beet greens and garlic, and sun tea. And dancing on a hog barn floor.

And now. Two years later.

My 91-year-old grandpa. Always interested in what I’m doing. And I love that he asks. And so, I invited him to a workshop.

And turns out it was going to be right across the street from his house in Washington Park. I was to be one of the IFT co-facilitators, with Daniel and Marie.

Love. Joy.

My grandpa came. We taught, listened, suggested, moved through, touched elbows to knees, eyes to hearts. So many amazing stories. And amazing IFT peeps, Sam, Rachael, Candace, Eugenia, and Frances.

And so, yeah. Expectations? Don’t know. My grandpa had prepared for this workshop since May. He’d read the Digital Storytelling Cookbook, taken notes, prepared.

Sticky notes were involved.



3x5 notecards tucked in his shirt pocket.

Maybe the expectations were my own. I knew he’d get it, but it took a bit longer than I thought. A few days after the workshop, really. The wonderful, kind feedback he received from people, he didn’t expect.

So he told his story, about learning to fly small airplanes at the age of 73. How his story was not going to be emotional. He talked briefly about how he’s been widowed twice. How he flew the path of the Santa Fe Trail, and could see the wagon tracks from the small airplane he was in. And how he felt free. I flew with him, when I was 28, from Denver to Gunnison, to visit my sister. He let me take the “wheel” over the Continental Divide for a bit. It felt so strange, like I had nothing under my feet.

But yes, free.

Like I could pull up on the wheel anytime and just do a loop, like sky writing. I wondered what I’d write in the sky – maybe a gigantic heart, or the words, “Lordy, I love you”. But my cartoon mind came back to the reality of landing.

And my grandpa did know how to land. He’s always seemed to know that part.