He walked into the apartment, small but upright, and gave my friend a hug. He found a seat on the sofa and quickly accepted the offer of a glass of wine at 3:00 in the afternoon. He had lost his friend that week and she had lost her dad, and they were remembering him. At 88, he said, he didn’t have any more friends. They were all gone ahead of him.
His eyes reflected the lifetime of memories. She prompted with, “I always thought your name was Eddie, but on this paper it says Steve.” He replied with, “Well, here’s how that goes …” and the stories began from the Manhattan east-sider of Irish descent.
He started with a ridiculous tale about his current lady friend, a couple of blue pills and a plane ride. He moved on to some outrageous escapades involving football games and VIP clubs that he and her dad had enjoyed over the years. Then there were stories about her father in younger years with younger ladies. He had us on the edge of our seats right up until it was time for him to head home. I have no idea which parts were true, but I’m sure most were heavily embellished. He’s the sort that has been telling stories his whole life, engaging his listeners with twinkling eyes, a wink and a knowing nod.
My great uncle was a story teller, too. I was young when he died, and I wish I could remember more. “Those mules, Pete and Repeat, they were the laziest, most good for nothing …,” he’d start with a slow chuckle. “I’m not akiddin’ you ….” His was the gift of a story well told.
My husband told “Jack Stories” to our son at bedtime when he was small. Jack had crazy adventures with a bumble, monkeys and bears. The monkeys were always getting into trouble, usually somehow tied into something that had happened in our household, and the bears were just plain mean. At the time, I remember thinking we should record the nightly installments, but of course we didn’t. They are gone, and my son only vaguely remembers poor Jack.
Many of today’s stories are now told in pictures, whether on Snapchat or Instagram or Facebook. Quickly flashed on a screen with a few choice words, we get the message and move on to the next. But I fear that an art form is dying, much like, I don’t know, clogging or the juice harp. Storytelling takes patience, imagination and an audience willing to sit for a while. Very few have developed the skills to tell the little details and surprises that bring smiles, laughter and cries of “Oh, come on!”
Maybe this will become our summer evening tradition. Come join me the deck with a glass of something and let’s search for some storytelling magic.
You’re certainly right about the value of storytelling, and the shame it is to see it fade. I think the newer visual storytelling tools give interesting ways to tell stories as well. But the retraining of “listeners” away from the ability to enjoy a teller is a real medium term possibility. You’d better cook up some big tales this summer on your deck. I’ll do my part here on mine.
What? Steve’s stories were heavily embellished?? The perfect partner to a wonderful storyteller is a gullible gal. That’s me. I always believed his stories were 60% truth, 30% added flavor and 10% Irish charm.🍀💚 I have the pleasure of taking Steve to Tavern on the Green in Central Park NYC next week. I am contemplating bringing along a tape recorder.🍀💚