Tell Me A Story, Steve. Or Is It Eddie?

donkey-193263_1280He 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.

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How I Grew into Country Music

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Most of my life, country music lived in the margins.  My dad would listen to it as he worked around the house sometimes.  Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers, “You got to know when to hold ’em.”  Or, as we drove to our cabin in the Up North of Michigan, the choices on the AM radio were static, talk or country in that order.  Twangy stories of heart break and dead dogs, I couldn’t relate and wondered why anyone else would.

A few years ago my life perspective shifted.  Part of my liberation of thought included buying myself a convertible.  It was illogical and selfish and fun and just what the doctor ordered.  And with all of the music available on local and XM Radio, I found myself tuning into country as the wind blew my hair into a frenzy.

My kid and I figured out that any good country song includes the elements of a truck, a girl, beer, America and sometimes God.  Generally all within the first two lines. “Truck, Yeah.”  Unapologetic.  Free.  Grounded in hillbilly, redneck, muddy pride.  Country singers are storytellers who draw us into a different world.   For three minutes, we become a girl pissed off that her boyfriend cheated on her or a father lamenting how fast life goes by or a man honoring the memory of his friend killed in the war.

I grew into this world of country music by letting go.  I let go of pretenses and prejudices.  I realized that whatever I thought I had been or was going to be, the core of it all is this short time we share together.  And those simple themes in country’s stories capture the essence of living fully and unabashedly.  Sometimes it isn’t pretty and sometimes we make mistakes.  Sometimes we go looking for something bad to happen.  Sometimes we hang out on a pontoon and sometimes we just love the ones in our lives.

And that’s how I grew into country music.  Or maybe country music grew into me.