My granddaughter, Hannah, just paid me one of the greatest compliments possible. She said, “Grandpa, you have a story for everything.” That is a comment I heard a number of times while teaching and it always made me smile large.
I have always loved real-life stories. I can remember my dad telling me stories about growing up in the South and about his favorite uncle, uncle Arthur. I remember back in the late 1940s my uncle Homer sitting with me on his back steps and teaching me to tell time and all about the moon and the stars.
I remember the old men and veterans who sat under the overhang at the Elliott Hotel telling stories about the World Wars and the countries they had visited and the sights they had witnessed.
Looking back at the people I’ve most admired in life, most of them have been good story tellers. Mr. Turner made 7th grade science enjoyable, not so much because of the subject itself, but because of the the stories he told about science and about growing up on a farm and being in the Army.
Hanging out at the Pure Oil station you would hear stories about fast cars, fast horses, fast pitch softball, and occasionally, fast women. If that weren’t enough there would also be plenty of tales about hunting game, setting traps, running trot lines, and about all the big ones that got away.
Daniels Pool Hall was also a place to experience a childhood worth of tales, many we kids shouldn’t have been privy to. But never-the-less, there were lessons to be learned and arts to be mastered. When you weren’t occupied perfecting your masse shot you could pick up some pointers on embellishment or stretching the truth of a story to make it more entertaining.
My decision to join the Navy was in large part because of the stories I heard from returning sailors. Guys who came back home after being in the Army or Air Force all had the same story. Most had either been at some stateside base, such as Lackland, TX or they had been in Korea or West Germany. The guys coming back from a few years at sea, however, had some real stories to tell. They had been everywhere, seen more than a young man probably should, and done things even old men should never do. I could listen to them for hours and never get bored.
After getting out of the Navy and later deciding to go to college I didn’t consider making my living telling stories. Instead I thought I would be happiest spending my life as an accountant and pushing adding machine keys with my dexterous digits. That lasted for two semesters and one screening of How to Succeed in Business.
What really led me to change my major was a great story-teller who just happened to be teaching a required American History 101 course. Russell Storken became my hero and my mentor. Just watching him talk about the Westward expansion of the United States gave me the idea that this could be one fun way to make a living. By the time I enrolled in his American History 102 course I had changed my major and decided I was going to spend my working life telling his-story, the story of civilization.
It was a great ride, getting a regular paycheck, having a captive audience of 17 year olds, and a willingness to venture off the subject in whatever direction they wanted to take me. When I retired I was often asked if I missed teaching? The truth is, not really. The only thing I really missed was the venue to tell and hear stories in.
Thankfully, it wasn’t too long before I found a new venue and a new audience. In retirement I began hanging around the local truck stop becoming friends with many local personalities, of whom several were themselves accomplished master embellishers. I not only got to practice my art but I got to go to school on them and improve my skills.
Sometime in the late 90s my daughter gave all the older people in the family a form like book for Christmas. If one began answering the questions on page one and continued through page 123, they would have essentially written their life’s story. I bulked at this because it was too structured and limiting. My compromise was agreeing to write about, on my own terms, the stories that were important to me. The ones that had taught me important life lessons and were worthy of passing on.
That marked the beginning of my life as a writer. Writing for my online community newsletter and later for my personal blog has filled the void left by not having a room full of teenagers to engage with each day. My love of stories is also why I’ve tried to make this a writer’s blog, a gathering place for people with things worthy of being read and then repeated. I get as much enjoyment reading the latest from Dave Shoemaker or Gail Allen as I do sitting here at my laptop trying to make last night’s table fare sound like it came from a five-star restaurant.
When I was writing a monthly column for the local newspapers I couldn’t imagine how someone could write a weekly or daily column. As I continued to write, though, I discovered that the more you do the easier it becomes. Not only can I now write a daily piece, I have a pretty large reserve on hand with the problem being, figuring out how to best schedule them.
I don’t know if I’ll always want to write. I have a habit of waking up on occasion with a “been there, done that” attitude and head off in a new direction. What I don’t think will ever happen is not wanting to tell a tale in some form. Not looking forward to finishing out life in a nursing home not knowing my kid’s names. But, I’ll have a whole bunch of stories to tell to a new audience of people I’ve never met before.
And when I do croak I want my grandchildren to someday turn to their children and say, “Your great grandpa had a story for everything. You’d have liked him. Let me tell you about the time he…”