Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stories from my Daddy

Storytelling is the oldest form of record keeping.  Most of what we know of ancient history is from oral telling of facts and events, with each generation passing them on to the next.

Stories are the most important inheritance we have to pass on.  ~ Donald Davis

I cannot remember a time when my Daddy wasn't telling stories.

He told them while we worked, at the supper table, before bedtime.  In the summer, when the heat from the tin roof and wood cook stove drove us out of the house, we sat on the porch with a gnat-smoke in a metal half-bushel tub and Daddy told stories: Stories about hard times, violent deaths of people we didn't know but had allegedly shared DNA, war stories, and mule stories. They included tales about his siblings, which amazed me because his subjects were now elderly people with children of their own, and it was so hard to imagine my sweet aunts jumping fences while running from snakes.

Daddy told stories of favorite milk cows, of coon dogs, and years when cotton had to be picked in the snow.  He remembered walking to church, and things that happened on the way that had not an inkling of spiritually about them. He told of homemade toys, some quite dangerous, and the perils of moonshine stills in the woods.  He could quote complete sentences, usually embarrassing lines that someone had said without thinking, years after the speaker's hair was gray and much water had run under the proverbial bridge.

All his stories were true, or at least, based on the truth.  Stories have a way of changing with each telling, and the last time you hear it is sometimes far removed from the first time. After the years dulled his recollection of facts, his most common stories were just repeated over and over.  We didn't care if we could quote the lines before he said them, because it wasn't about the story.  It was about the telling.

To tell a story, one has to slow down, to focus, to share, and care. To absorb a story, one has to stop and listen.  When we do this, there is a bonding; a bonding to our history, to our people, to who we are. Stories change our world. Stories change us.

My daddy was not a formally educated man, but he was smart.  Like most farm boys during his youth, he left school when he was big enough to work on the farm, after third or fourth grade. He may not have walked through the school house door after that, but he read. He listened and observed, he noticed and paid attention.  He remembered.

When his life was done, Daddy wasn't able to leave us thousands of acres of Tennessee hills or antebellum mansions down by the river. We didn't have to fight over the cars or stock options.  What he left us was so much better--an inheritance rich with knowledge of who we are and where we came from.

If there is a scintilla, an iota of storyteller in me, I owe it all to my Daddy.