The Best Storyteller I ever Knew

Storyteller with fan

There are always tributes to male parents close to Father’s Day. Check out Social Media and you’ll see all kinds of posts commemorating the sweetest, the bravest, the kindest fathers, etc. I’m sure all of those plaudits are true. But, when it comes to titles and “Greatest” plastic championship cups, I know which one belongs to my Dad. He was the first and best Storyteller I ever knew.

My Dad loved a laugh more than anything else and his jokes were many and varied. (At his funeral, Dad stories brought out as many smiles as tears.) And, as a kid, he and his buddies pulled practical jokes to make each other laugh. And by jokes, I mean the kind of stunts that could get a kid kicked out of school. I know this because he told us about them.

The Greatest Storyteller
With an early fan.

Now some parents try to keep their own children from learning what stinkers they were as kids. But not my Dad. He loved spinning tales of his miscreant past and we loved hearing him talk. After all, we knew some of the characters. but Dad had a way of talking that made you feel like you were there. At dinner, Dad would grin, start a story and pretty soon, my sister and I would be giggling, banging our fists on the table and forgetting to eat our food (it takes a lot for me to forget food!) Barb and I loved some of his stories so much, we asked him to retell them again and again. (I referred to these as “Daddy’s Greatest Hits”) Then we brought friends over to listen to him tell them again. We never got tired of Daddy’s stories. And we miss hearing them, now that he’s gone.

So, in honor of Dad, for the next few weeks, I’m going to share a few of his stories. I don’t know if I can recapture his inimitable timing or delivery but I’ll try. Anything to hear these tales again

Some people thought my Dad was a naughty, undisciplined boy because of the pranks he pulled. To me, he was just my Daddy. The best storyteller I ever knew.

A Possum ate my Internet

I know this post is late and this excuse sounds weak but my story is absolutely legit, and it started last Friday when Darling Husband asked for the new WiFi password.

Now, some would think that’s a reasonable question, given that I’m the closest thing we have to an IT department. (Terrifying thought!) On the other hand, as the household IT rep., I never change the passwords without warning. So if Darling Husband suddenly can’t access the ‘net, there’s probably a bad reason why.

No Wi-Fi

There was. Two of the three green lights on our Wi-Fi has changed to blazing red. The WiFi had power but the landline phones were out. And our internet link was dead.

Forty minutes of hold music and recorded questions on my cell phone later, and our internet provider pronounced the diagnosis. Our WiFi was dead. They would ship us a new one over the weekend. In the meantime, we’d have a nostalgic reminder of life in the pre-internet days.

Listen, I like to joke about being tied to technology, but I had no idea it was true. Okay, I couldn’t stream movies or shows so, I decided to pay bills…until I remembered my bank stuff was all on line. I couldn’t write on the blog, I couldn’t read my magazines, or catch up with the news; I couldn’t even get the weather forecast. Re-reading downloaded books worked until I ran across a word I didn’t know. Automatically, I tapped the screen before remembering the Dictionary was an on-line feature. I’m not dependent on the internet, I’m addicted!

Monday’s good news was the replacement Unit arrived. The bad news was, nothing changed. I pulled out the cell phone, spent another 30 minutes negotiating recordings and hold music until a Real Person at the Internet Provider said I (sigh) needed a technician’s visit. Could I be home on Tuesday? Was he kidding? I’d have been home if it meant missing my own birthday.

The Real Source of the Problem

As a rule, I like technicians. They’re usually smart, practical, good-humored people and this guy was no exception. With his meter and tools, he cheerfully climbed through the weeds and verified the electronic signals were getting to the outside of our house. Then he began tracing the lines.

Evidence of the Crime!

And there was the source of the problem. A Cat-5 wire had been cut. No, not cut, ripped apart, bitten right where it went under the house. The technician opened the door to look into the crawlspace.

And, just as quickly, he backed out. “Found your problem”, he said, and pointed with his flashlight. I poked my head in and, there in the corner was one of the biggest possums I’ve ever seen. At least 5 pounds, he was, and filling the space between the wall and first joist. Staring back at me. And hissing.

Now I have a healthy fear of possums. Some of them are rabid and they all have teeth. So, the three of us retreated to our neutral corners (me, the tech, and the marsupial) and reconsidered our various options. Finally, new Cat-5 wire was hung, well out of Perceval Possum’s reach. But this has taught me a lesson.

It doesn’t matter if I was raised pre-World Wide Web; I’m a citizen of the virtual universe now. I can’t exist without the darn thing. But I also exist in a universe with unpredictable weather and wild animals. And sometimes they take precedence. So, for all of you who are sick of hearing excuses, I apologize. But honestly, once a possum eats the Internet line, there’s not much else a person can do.

Miss Anxiety of 1953

I have an Inner Critic that goes In and Out with Me.

I call her Miss Anxiety of 1953.

Introductions, Please

By now, everyone’s heard of their inner child. It’s the spirit of the person you were as a kid, innocent, hopeful and kind. Well, if that’s not too New-Agey for you (and I hope it’s not) some of us contend with other inner spirits that aren’t nearly so pleasant. Judgmental, tactless, critical types that appear out of nowhere and torpedo your self-esteem. A friend of mine refers to her internal bete noir as her “Inner Mean Girl”. But, after due consideration, I believe mine has a different personality. Folks, meet Miss Anxiety of 1953.

Miss Anxiety?

Miss Anxiety, 1953

Miss Anxiety has been my constant companion since grade school and she has lot of concerns . Back then, she worried every morning that I’d be late for school. Or I wouldn’t be liked if I didn’t shut up. Or people would laugh if I tried to swing at a baseball. Later she worried when boys didn’t like me. She worried if one of them did. These days, Miss Anxiety worries about my salary, my marriage, my hair length and don’t get her started on the subject of my body! (Seriously, don’t let her go there. Even during the three weeks I wore a size 5, Miss Anxiety still fussed about my upper arms. She’s a perfectly toned size 1 and there’s simply no way to please her.)

Miss Anxiety has a similar obsession with rules and her Code of Etiquette is from the Eisenhower Era. No wearing white pants, except in the Summer. No wearing white shoes ever, they make your feet look big. Speak, sneeze, sing and laugh so softly no one can hear you and then apologize for the noise. Silence is the hallmark of a true lady. And the only acceptable way a lady asserts herself involves a candy that’s two mints in one. (By the Way, I never aspired to ladyhood, But Miss Anxiety hasn’t given up hope.) And as she is a title-holder herself, Miss Anxiety is hideously competitive. She agonizes over every teeny error I make, and every time I’m not chosen. According to Miss Anxiety, unless I succeed in everything, I’ll never succeed I Anything !!

So why did I quit fighting her?

Miss Anxiety
Miss Anxiety, 1953

For years, I loathed and feared Miss Anxiety, and opposed her at every turn.. I yelled back at her and ignored her. But She wouldn’t leave, no matter how hard I tried. Then, instead of yelling at her, I decided to listen. And I realized something incredible.

Miss Anxiety doesn’t hate me. She’s not trying to make my life miserable. Like my grandmother and mother, she worries I’m going to miss out on some great opportunity. So, she continually fusses at me. And when she thinks things may go wrong, she sets off alarms.

So last week, when I got stressed and Miss Anxiety began raising her voice, I listed to what was frightening her. And I responded.

It’s not given to understand what role we each play in the Grand Design. But we all have our parts. And I’m content to know I will play mine.

Turns out, that thought made Miss Anxiety pretty happy too.

When The Earth is Your Closest Friend

Normally I spend hours writing these posts. But it’s late, and I’m sore from changing out yet another tire (different story) so let’s just get to the goods, shall we?

I. Know. A. Great. Story.

Trust me, you want to read it. Everyone else is reading and loving it right now and, for once, everyone else is right. Where the Crawdads Sing is a wonderful story about the heaven and hell of spending most of your life alone.

And we’re not talking Thoreau-in-Walden voluntary solitude here. The book opens with little Kya Clark watching her mother walk out of her life. No tears, no hug, not a wave goodbye, just a door slamming in their shack on the Marsh. And, once Mama goes, Kya’s siblings follow her down the road, until there’s only a six-year old trying to survive a live of privation and her hard-drinking Daddy. Finally, there’s no one’s left in the Marsh shack but Kya.  And the child has to provide for herself.

Kya grows up wise in ways of the natural world if unskilled when it comes to people.  Having no other guide, she tries to understand people in terms with the marsh beings she knows: how girls at play flock like gulls or the alpha-male in a playground of boys. But lack of skill and loneliness cause Kya to make mistakes when it comes to people, some that cost her dearly.  And that’s where the rest of the story comes in.

Death In the Swamp

Interspersed with Kya’s growth are chapters about a dead man, found in the swamp. How he got there, why he died, and the effect of his death on Kya forms the central mystery of the book but in the end, this is Kya’s story. And it’s a story that begs to be read.

Told in luminous prose, Where the Crawdads Sing, is a hymn to nature and and ambivalence in a life lived alone. It’s the story of a woman’s life, a Southern Novel and a murder mystery as well. And it’s so spellbinding, that, reading it, you can forget you’re stranded on the edge of an interstate, buffeted by the air rush of passing trucks, and facing a nasty wrecker bill. Instead, you’re in the cool, clean air of a North Carolina Marsh with a woman whose best friend is the earth.

Trust me, I know. It’s really that good. Now you should read it and know that too.

In the Aftermath of Devastation

There are times when fate knocks you down to your knees, when it’s hard just to draw your next breath. This happens with the big, bad events in our lives, when we hit losses that define us forever. Sometimes. a single event hits several people at once and the world tends to take notice, though never for long. But what happens once the funerals finish and the reporters leave to chase another story? Do the survivors continue to navigate the aftermath with a “stiff upper lip” or do they tumble headlong through the devastation? Hannah Pittard wants to know.

The Crash

Hannah looks at this question through the lens of one of the sadder stories I know. In June of 1963, a plane crashed near the Orly airport of France, and exploded into a gigantic fireball. 106 of the 122 passengers that died in that inferno were members of the fledgling Atlanta Art Association. Atlanta, in those days was still a fairly small city and those members all came from the same small, tight-knit group: the wealthy, well-born, educated, white, clique that wielded much of the town’s political clout. Their deaths tore a hole in the town’s wealthiest neighborhood and the downtown power structure.

In Visible Empire,Pittard charts the immediate aftermath of the crash mixing real-life with fictional characters. There are those that assume the mantle of duty at once, like the exhausted, nearly noble, Irwin Allen Jr. His mayoral responsibilities force him to compartmentalize his grief while identifying and burying his friends. There’s the fictional (I hope) Southern playboy who celebrates the deaths of his parents by squandering the assets they left him. Little lies and big ones come to light with the crash extending the range of devastation. And into all of this insanity comes a quiet meditation on race.

Atlanta’s Concurrent Tragedy

Although Mayor Allen, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and their allies were working to desegregate Atlanta, it was still a City of the South, with a tortured racial history. Pittard compares the reverence for air-crash casualties to the denial and obscurity that follows victims of lynchings. Unlike the white, moneyed bereaved, Atlanta’s black citizens don’t have the luxury of falling apart, although one character tries. It is his journey, far from the plane crash of Orly that leads the second half of the novel.

There is much of the Orly tragedy I wish Pittard had written about; how the crash added a moral imperative to constructing the city’s Fine Arts Center; how a daughter in France learned of her mother’s death through a transatlantic phone call; how families assembled and reassembled their lives without the aid of professionals or support groups. But that will be the work of some other novelist. In the meantime, we have Visible Empire to remind us that all life is precious and the future uncertain.