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  • Writer's pictureLinda Borromeo

A Mutiny, a Shipwreck, and a Wheel of Cheese: Hear the Stories Around You on Thanksgiving

I'm trying to remember the name of a Star Trek episode. The plot featured a civilization desperate for new stories. Then, the unsuspecting Star Trek crew arrived on the planet.

The planet's inhabitants had a storytelling culture. All well and good, until they began to tire of the same stories and were looking for original material. The Star Trek crew brought those new stories, and at first, all went well. But when the visitors planned to move on, their hosts began using extreme measures to keep the Star Trek crew from leaving with their stories until they'd heard them all..

Stories have always fascinated people. Fortunately, we don't have to resort to desperate measures to hear new stories. All it takes is asking a question or two when families get together for the holidays.

Family Stories Month

November is family stories month. When families meet on Thanksgiving, it's a great time to gather more stories, especially from older generations.

Activity Idea: Before heading off to a holiday get-together, challenge everyone in the family to discover two new stories from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends. Pass around a camera or smart phone to take pictures. Once you return home, put together an album each year with the stories and pictures you discovered.

A Great-Grandfather's Adventures

Here is a story I discovered as a child, listening to family stories told about my great-grandfather.

His first adventure? Riding on horseback all the way from Maine to California while he followed a wagon train. He had no money left to join the group, but he was always innovative.

Once in California, Amasa Saunders realized he would make more money with a sawmill than a gold pan. He returned to Maine to get married to his sweetheart and put together a new plan. He never suspected what would happen next:

The Mutiny

The clipper ship carrying young Amasa and his sawmill equipment made a dangerous voyage around Cape Horn.

Thinking it would be safer, he asked his bride, Flavia Jane, to cross at Panama instead of taking the voyage around the Cape. They agreed meet in San Francisco on their way to Oregon.

Amasa had expected many challenges on the voyage, but not what happened when the ship neared San Francisco. The captain began holding back more and more of the provisions—food the passengers paid for at the beginning of the trip. The captain planned to sell, for an exorbitant price, all the food and supplies he'd hoarded once they reached San Francisco.

Amasa Saunders

A bold and restless entrepreneur, my great-grandfather decided not to let the captain get away with that arrangement. He led a mutiny, and the passengers raided the food supplies held by the captain (who seemed to be quite an entrepreneur himself

Each passenger took custody of some of their rightful provisions. What did my great-grandfather liberate from the captain's plan for wealth? He took a wheel of cheese back to his quarters.

My dad told me many of the details about Amasa, but it was my aunt who added the story about the cheese. I found myself laughing, since everyone in my family—with Saunders blood—has had a particular fondness for this wonderful food throughout the generations.

I like to think how much Great-Grandfather savored that cheese, made even more delicious by the actions he took to set it free.

Sharing the Stories

I would have missed knowing about my great-grandparent's ventures if I hadn't listened to the stories.

To give a child the gift of family stories, encourage them to ask a few questions and narrate back what they heard. It's a treasure they'll remember, and tell others, all their lives.

What Happened After: The Shipwreck

My great-grandparents never made it to Oregon. They were shipwrecked off the California coast near Point Arena. In fact, Amasa's name is still part of the story there, since Saunders Reef is named for him near Point Arena.

Amasa and Flavia Jane decided to stay and establish the sawmill in California. Years later, my family got a chance to tour the house where they'd lived. I still remember the old wind-up telephone on the wall, complete with adjustable mouthpiece,

Amasa's restless feet caused the family to move on again. They traveled down to southern California where Amasa built another sawmill in the Idyllwild area. He also established a ranch in Mexico and led a cattle drive back to the United States.

It was an active and colorful life for a man who saw all the possibilities of the old-growth forests at the start of his career. Perhaps it is fitting that Saunders Reef is now a State Marine Conservation Area. Unlike his grandfather, my dad was a long-time conservationist and led many hikes for the Sierra Club.

Dad always loved cheese, though.

This Thanksgiving, take time to listen to the stories.


In Linda's story set in 1893, a dangerous secret forces Christie and Melina to escape to a remote lighthouse island. In search of answers at Mystery Shores, the two friends must use ingenuity and courage to solve the mysteries around them.

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