Our youngest granddaughter was spending quality time with Grandma Lana and Grandpa Ron. Beatrix (Beats) just turned 5. She dazzles at a dance recital, sings songs from "The Greatest Showman," speaks in complete paragraphs and reasons like a lawyer. When she's delighted, she lights up the room.
I invited Beats to climb up on my lap and hear a story. From memory, I recalled parts of the old Cajun tale from a children's book that I'd read to her mother decades before. The book was titled, "Old Hasdrubal and the Pirates," by Berthe Amos.
In the illustrated book, an old bayou fisherman tells how his great-great-grandfather wrestled an alligator, rescued a captive maid from pirates, and became the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Beats listened with rapt attention, imagining the exciting action scenes.
That evening, Beats told her mom about Grandpa's exciting story -- a new one with a Cajun fisherman, pirates and an alligator. Bek asked her, "Was the fisherman named Hasdrubal?"
With a gasp of astonishment, Beats exclaimed, "How do you know his name?"
Parenting and grandparenting give us the chance to knit one generation into the lives of those who went before us. Family life is meant to be multi-generational. It is best done by sitting around and talking. I missed this benefit as a child. I came along so late in my parents' lives that only one grandparent was still living, grandma Christenberry. She lived to be 96. Sally was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, tall, high cheekbones, with long raven-black hair. She had married a white man. She always spoke of him as "Mr. Christenberry." Old faded photos showed them as weathered pioneers who survived tough times.
The power of a story goes beyond simple facts. It paints a picture. With suspense, it engages emotions. Your imagination is captured so that you can see yourself inside the drama. A well-told story allows you to identify with the character's dilemma. Rather than a mere recital of history in black and white, a story paints with color. Our mind fills in the blanks. Each listener takes it to heart in a personal way.
I wish storytelling would come back in vogue. Unlike the written word, a storyteller can mix his own emotions, expressions, timing and body language into the delivery. Comedians like Bob Hope had mastered the "pregnant pause," making room for laughter after his joke sank in. Likewise, some authors rise to the level of artistry in their craft of storytelling. For me, Dean Koontz does this, as does John Grisham. They engross readers in vivid tales of fiction. Author James Patterson has mastered the technique. Lee Child's Jack Reacher character says more with fewer words than any author I've read.
Occasionally, a writer weaves historical research into a fictionalized account, making dry facts come alive. The late James Michener had this ability. Of course, being a student of the Bible, I can't leave out Jesus, the best storyteller of all. He told stories that caused even his critics to get the point, especially when the point was barbed and aimed at their hypocrisy. You can't read the New Testament without being amazed at his parables. He used thought-provoking questions and reality-probing fiction.
Whether we watch, listen or read stories, we are all authors of a true story -- our lives. We are continually narrating our stories, one chapter a day. They have an opening, a middle and an end. Even the blunders we make are important. Someone nearby is reading your story every day.
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Ron Wood is a writer and minister. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.touchedbygrace.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.Editorial on 06/13/2018
Print Headline: Storytelling through the ages