Have you ever listened to an older person talk? I don’t mean someone older than you by a year or two or even ten? I’m talking about someone in their sixties and seventies and eighties (and if they are lucky, further up in years). I’m talking about people with a life history.
I’ve heard it said when a child gives you something they think highly of you. It’s the same with older people telling you stories. If one sits down and opens up his or her past to you, it is because they want to share that part of their lives with you.
People don’t talk about the past anymore. Well, they do, but not the history of their lives. They talk about the immediate past. What happened an hour ago or a day ago or last week, maybe even a year or so ago. That’s all well and good, but tell me what happened forty years ago, during the height of the seventies or sixty years ago when teenagers went to drive ins and made out.
Tell me a story about your childhood, how you had to walk to school barefoot every day, up hill both ways, with your books slung over your shoulder in a cloth sack you had to hold with both your hands. Tell me how you had to get up in the morning to make breakfast for your siblings or how after school you would come home and do chores and homework before going outside to climb trees, walk on railroad tracks or fish out at a pond on someone’s land. Tell me about the war. Tell me about segregation. Tell me how you met grandma at church or at a work picnic or how she was your high school sweetheart who you went to the prom with. Tell me about your friends you used to hang out with, the trouble y’all got into, the fun y’all had. Tell me about the first time you kissed someone not related to you. Tell me about the greatest moment, day, summer of your life.
Reminisce for a little while.
People don’t do that anymore. And when they do, does anyone listen?
Older people know how to tell stories. They’re never in a hurry. They want you to sit down in a rocking chair next to them on the front porch (possibly with a tea, some water, a lemonade, maybe a coffee or possibly even a beer or some whiskey). Often times you will hear them say something like, ‘Come sit for a spell. I’d like to tell you a story.’ They might even pat the seat where they want you to plant your bottom.
They want you to see the pictures they paint with their words, so they tell their stories deliberately. They meander along, giving you great descriptions, both about the scenes and the people who take part in them. They give you wonderfully vivid details, sometimes laughing or letting out a ‘whoo wee’ when they reach certain parts. Occasionally, they might slap their knee (or even yours). They spare nothing in the telling of their stories.
You won’t get to the end of their stories in a couple of minutes. You have to sit and listen, sometimes for half an hour. Sometimes longer.
One of the things I know about older folks telling their stories: they want someone to talk to. They want an audience, even if it is just one person. That one person means the world to them. Because at their age, few people are listening.
Like I said earlier, older people know how to tell stories. They know how to engage their audience, and it doesn’t matter how small or how large. It’s an art form that is going away. It’s dying with each one of those older folks who leaves us.
My grandfather was great at telling stories. Sometimes those stories lasted minutes. Sometimes significantly longer. The one thing that rang true with them all was my grandfather took his time with them. He meandered. He said, ‘Come sit for a spell. I want to tell you a story.’ He didn’t care if I was in a hurry, because he wasn’t. He also knew how to capture my attention and he knew the best way to tell a story was by making it relatable.
Fast forward to today. Everyone is in a hurry. Everyone wants things on the surface. They don’t want depth. We have the fast food mentality of our way, right away. Come on. Hurry up. I don’t have time for this. Our story telling has gone that way as well. Everyone wants a fast story. They don’t want to sit for a while as an old man tells the story of how his and a long lost lover’s initials ended up on an oak tree near city hall. I realize not everyone is that way, but it sure does feel like the majority is.
All that brings us to me. A lot of my ‘style’ as it is came from my grandfather. Though the subject matter is nothing like he would tell, the voice, the way I like to take my time to get into a story, the way I try to pull you in and make my words relatable, is definitely all him. I guess you can say I meander. I don’t hurry. I ask you to come, sit with me for a while.
I’m not as good of a story teller as he was. I doubt I ever will be. To be honest, I’m okay with that. Because I am me. I may have been influenced largely by my grandfather, but I am me and my style is my style. I unpack my stories carefully. Is it for everyone? No. If you are one who wants a quick story that hits you hard with action from beginning to end, then my writing just isn’t going to cut it for you. If you want perfect grammar, yeah, I’m probably not the writer you want to read. If you are someone who expects a lot of cussing and sex and gore in your stories, you won’t find that in my words. If you are looking for technically sound writing, you might not find it in my stories. After all, i tend to write my stories like I’m talking to someone face to face … as if I have an audience of one. Those are the types of stories I enjoy reading, so they are the stories I enjoy telling.
I guess that means I write stories like an older man tells them. I’m okay with that. Because older folks know how to tell a good story.
Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.
P.S.: If you know an older person, especially one that spends a lot of time alone, go sit with them, go listen to them tell their stories. There is history in their words. If there is one thing I know, everyone wants to live on after they are gone. By telling stories to the younger generation, that is what these older folks are doing. Go sit for a while. You won’t regret it. And you just might make someone’s day.