Jewish World Review August 4, 2011 / 4 Menachem-Av, 5771
The best stories always tell us who we are
By Sharon Randall
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | If you are anything like me -- no, I don't mean chatty and lazy -- you've got to love a good story.
In the mountains where I was born, storytellers were once called "liars." Not because their stories weren't true. On the contrary. If the tales they told were more fabricated than factual, they were always true of the human condition, intended not to convey facts, but to entertain, enlighten and inspire.
I was born into a family of "liars." My grandparents and parents, my blind baby brother, my aunts and uncles and dozens of cousins, the dogs that slept under the porch, even the fleas that slept on the dogs -- they all told stories.
All I had to do was to listen. And as I listened, I learned that every good story, like every good life, has a beginning, a middle and an end. But the best stories always tell us who we are.
I grew up steeped in all sorts of stories. Some I heard on my grandparents' porch. Others flapped around in my head like the shadows that fly after birds.
In school, my teachers said I was a writer. They also said I was chatty and lazy, but I liked "writer" best. I had no idea what it meant. I still don't. But I have spent most of my life telling stories (as a writer) and hearing them told by family and friends and strangers in passing.
Everybody has a story. Just give them a chance to tell it, then listen closely to what they say and what they don't.
You would not believe some of the stories I hear. I don't always believe them myself. But I keep them, collect them the way some people collect stamps, even if I can't always remember them.
The best thing about telling stories, and the highest praise you can hope to get, is when someone wants to tell you their story in return. Often as not, it will top the one you told.
Once, for example, I wrote in a column about how I got wedged under the hatch of an SUV (trying to get a 12-pack of Diet Coke out of the back) and had to crawl over the seat to get out.
Not much action, very little plot, but it struck a chord with readers who wrote by the hundreds to tell me stories that would put mine to shame.
The best two, as I recall, were these: A woman who fell half naked behind her dryer (never mind how) and remained stuck for hours, said she wasn't sure which she feared more: Dying or being rescued. She finally escaped by rocking her body back and forth to wiggle the dryer away from the wall.
And a man in a rush to return a rented video by midnight dropped the movie in the box and returned to his pickup to find that his dog had pawed the door and locked him out.
"There I was," he said, "no shirt, no shoes, no brains."
After several failed attempts to get the dog to unpaw the lock, he walked barefoot to a convenience store -- knowing full well he would never hear the end of it -- and begged a smirking clerk to let him use the phone to call his wife.
You cannot make that stuff up.
Recently I read about a man in South Carolina who robbed a convenience store and got away on a riding lawn mower.
I forwarded that story to some of my family in South Carolina.
The best response came from my niece, who wrote: "I used to work at a little country store, had a customer, his name was (never mind). He'd ride his moped up to the store with a towel on his head with duct tape wrapped around it. He said he had washed his hair and didn't want the wind to blow it."
I'm not sure what those stories tell us about who we are, except maybe that we are human.
Stories are the "yarns" in the fabric of our lives. They weave us together in one fine cloth, generation to generation, for as long as we keep telling and listening and asking for more.
Go ahead. Tell me a story. I can't wait to hear it.
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