Monday, February 17, 2014

Good storytellers are hard to find ~ My Column from Sunday's Paper

The best history teacher I had in college was a master. He had the class hooked the first day when he told us he preferred to think of history as HIS-Story.

He explained that the history of early cultures, before we humans learned to capture written history on typewriters and computers, was passed down from generation to generation verbally through storytelling.

Historians learned this by studying pictures carved on cave walls with sharp stones. 

I didn’t learn my family history by reading cave paintings, but I did learn what I know by sitting at the knees of my grandparents as they told how “their people” lived.

Granny Watson, my great-grandmother was born just after the Civil War and by the early ‘60s, the years had taken their toll on her frail body, but her mind was still sharp. 

Her head wobbled a little as she spoke in a craggy voice about how her family had eked out an existence trying to grow crops in the red clay.

I remember Pap (my dad’s father) sitting on the porch telling stories. The stubble on his chin was gray as ash and rough as a rasp. His words came slowly, almost as if he had to search for them in dimly lit corners of his mind, but once he started I hung on every word.

Some folks are gifted with a natural sense of pace, timing and the right amount of detail that makes the listener feel as though they were there when the story happened.

A well-told story allows the listener to smell, taste, hear and feel the action as if they were there. The scene comes alive in their mind’s eye. 

I sometimes worry about the impact technology is having on the stories of our lives.

News travels at the speed of light. The volume and velocity of information is compressed down on smartphone screens to the size of a pack of cigarettes, which we often read while sitting at stoplights … or worse, while we’re driving. 

My favorite newscaster when I was young was Walter Cronkite on CBS Evening News. 

Old Walt knew how to tell a story. His delivery of the news was like a window that gave me an opportunity to see how people lived in other parts of the world. 

Each night he ended his broadcast with, “And that’s the way it is, on Feb. 16, 1963” (or whatever day it was).

After listening to the beloved anchorman, we all knew that what he said could be taken to the bank.

These days it’s hard for me to watch the news because the truth of the stories seem to vary depending upon what side of the political fence you stand on. 

I think ALL the stations are in a competition to see which one can stoop the lowest. 

In listening to the news today, it would be easy to become jaded and start believing that there’s nothing good happening in our world today. 

I know that’s not true. I think it would help if we had more storytellers like Walter Cronkite and my grandpa.

This is a Hipstamatic photo that I did with random lens and film.
I call it sunset surprise.


  1. I agree...loved Walter Cronkite and several other old timers as well. Children need to learn the art of storytelling, so they can tell the stories about their grandparents, parents, and entire families. It would be a terrible loss if that art were lost in the technology shuffle.

  2. I used to sit and listen to my nan tell stories... I wish I had asked to hear more when she alive...

  3. Story telling definitely isn't what it used to be and that's a sad thing. Sometimes I think that's why blogging has become as popular as it is. We all have a need to tell a story and connect with others and this is how it comes out in our techologically advance culture. It's not a bad thing as long as we don't forget to actually talk to those closest to us and pass on our most intimate tales to them.

  4. I am incredibly lucky to have papers of family stories over the last two hundred years and I am now trying to put them into stories that would appeal to today's generations. I miss sitting next to my grandad's chair and listening to his stories and picturing the characters in my mind.

  5. I think the sharing of stories is so very important. I worry about the impact that today's education is having on the imagination and creativity and the telling of stories! Have a good week!

  6. Dear Rick, I so agree with you. The news today is treated as if it is entertainment and the News stations pride themselves on making the news. So they tell only part of a story or emphasize what they know will make listerners angry, etc. We don't have much investigative reporting going on. And there's where the story is. Peace.

  7. I think it also helps to have something worth telling. The things that pass for news these days hardly seem worth listening too,

    Moody Writing

  8. We had no storytellers in our family. I still miss Walter Cronkite. His face and voice were part of so many important events.



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