By CHARLENE PAUL
Moapa Valley Progress
Storytelling is an art. Some people seem to be born with the ability to captivate their audience with tales of glory, exploration, love, and woe. Their clever turn of a phrase, colorful use of language, and carefully placed pauses for dramatic effect keep people’s attention while they entertain and enlighten. Facts, or a lack thereof, don’t slow down their discourse. Embellishments and poetic license are only a couple of devices they carry in their verbal tool boxes. They keep conversations going with lively banter and witty exchanges.
My family is a family of story-tellers. From the uncle who convinced me there wasn’t enough room in his house for everyone to sleep, so they waited for us kids to fall asleep and then hung us by our ears in the garage so the adults could have the beds, to the aunt who told the story of selling my uncle’s milk cows when he couldn’t seem to remember what time to be home to milk them, the stories in my family get better with age.
No one has ever accused us of letting facts get in our way. What was small when the story originated has become huge with the passage of time. What was merely a blip on someone’s radar in the beginning has grown to almost epic proportions. And when we all get together, we chortle and laugh, we interrupt and heckle, and we even add elements to the original story that will soon become part of it, as if it was always part of the story. The volume rises and falls and rises again. In fact, someone on the outside looking in might incorrectly assume the Hatfields and McCoys are feuding within our walls. No one stops to ask for clarification. No one stops the lively banter to point out that the once factual story has become one heckuva whopper. No one, that is, until my husband Ken became a member of our family.
Ken comes from a family whose collective blood pressure is low enough as to not register. They are soft-spoken and adhere to the idea that all stories must be based in fact. During conversations, they patiently wait their turn to talk. The volume stays fairly steady, with only an occasional rise. They clarify facts and their playful banter is anything but playful banter. Spending time with them is quite pleasant, but it doesn’t raise anyone’s blood pressure.
When Ken joined my family, I think he spent the first five years in a state of shell-shock every time we got together. He didn’t know how to go with the flow, to enjoy the story telling and not ask questions. On numerous occasions, he would interject with something like, “I don’t get it,” or “I was there and I don’t remember any of that” or “What?!” The conversation would come to a crashing halt as my brother or sister or whomever else was there would turn and look at him like he had an eye in the middle of his forehead. I would squeeze his hand, try to look unaffected, and do my best to steer the conversation back to its lively pace. More often than not; however, people would get up and leave the room muttering undiscernible utterings to themselves.
As Ken and I were driving away after one such episode, I said, “The next time you don’t understand or remember something, just laugh with everyone else and then ask me about it later. I’ll explain it to you then.” He gave me a sideways glance but agreed.
A few months later, we were back visiting my side of the family. My brother was wound up and telling story after story. We all laughed and heckled and made off-handed comments back and forth. He told jokes that had everyone laughing until some of us cried and gasped for air. I was so proud of Ken because, although he didn’t say much, he laughed right along with the rest of us. It was glorious.
When we got in the car, Ken asked what a couple of my brother’s jokes meant. I thought for a minute and then said, “I have no idea.”
He raised his left eyebrow, shook his head, and quietly stated, “But you laughed as loud as everyone else.”
“Yep. In my family that is referred to as survival of the fittest.”