Sunday, May 2, 2010
“I’m going to tell y’all a story,” my southern friend says to us, “about the time my granddaddy taught me to drive. It was one day in summer and Meemaw said to Big Daddy…”
The woman is an effortless raconteur. Ten minutes later, after I’ve finished braying, stomping my feet, and upending cocktail nuts, I turn to the group and say, “Well that brings back a memory about the time…” and everyone looks at me with expressions ranging from pity and strained courtesy to mild horror. Oh god, Karin’s going to try to tell a story.
I come from a long line of bad storytellers – I guess that’s why most in my family write. When you write you can revise things hundreds of times until they gather some semblance of order. But when on the hoof, my stories travel a dark and winding tunnel, stumbling over many unpleasant things along the way.
My dad loved to tell stories, particularly to large gatherings. These stories seemed to get the best reception when the gathering comprised his subordinates at work. Normally the plot was incomprehensible and included at least two botched idiomatic expressions and one major mispronunciation. To say nothing of the accent, which always got worse after a few cocktails. At the end of the – for lack of a better word – story, the group would be sitting there slack-jawed, wondering whether they were supposed to laugh or cry, and maybe this was a trick, and it wasn’t the end after all. Then dad, to whom in this case intention equaled execution, would slap his thigh and double over in merriment.
The rest of the party would laugh out of sheer relief, knock back a restorative martini, and then try to distract him with a work-related issue or some other shiny object.
It’s a harmless vice, this bad storytelling gene we share, probably originating with the Vikings. We're descended from a people who ended myths with “And then evil killed off all the Gods and everyone died.” At least through the centuries we’ve been practicing our punch lines.
(Oh, the picture above? I can dream, can't I.)