let me tell you a telling story

My dad has always been a good storyteller, which is something I’ve admired about him for as long as I can remember. When I was little he used to tell this scary story to me and my sister and our friends about a man who cut off his toe with a garden hoe. I don’t remember exactly the way the story went, but I remember that there was a specific scary voice that my dad always used, and that even though I knew exactly what happened in the story, I always still got a little scared because he was just good at building the suspense.

Sometimes when I go to my dad’s house to visit with him we’ll sit at the counter and have a beer together and he’ll tell stories about when he was a kid or when he and my mom first started seeing each other. Yesterday when I went over for dinner (shish-kebabs- my dad only makes manly dinners like ribs, wings, steak, or other things that are grillable) I drank two Mike’s Hard Lemonades while he sipped wine and told me about the first time he ever saw my mom’s mother. I’ve always said that someday I want to write a book about my mom, because she’s one of the craziest people I know. I love her to death but she’s seriously a nutball, and without trying to insult her in any way, I think one of the best ways to describe her is to say that she inherited her father’s Virginian drinking habits and her mother’s German temper. The story that my dad tells about the first time he ever saw my grandma takes place at a dive bar in the small town where my mom grew up. This was before my dad and my mom started seeing each other, but my dad knew my grandpa because he was a local at this bar where my dad sometimes went with his friends.

My dad talked about how dingy the bar was, and it makes me laugh to picture my dad spending time in that kind of establishment because I think it explains a lot of why I always loved Station so much. I feel at home in dive bars because I can picture my parents haunting places like that when they were my age. It’s also strange for me to picture my grandpa being a local at a bar, because for my entire life he was really sick with emphysema, so I never knew him as a drinker or as the kind of person who spent much time away from home.

Apparently, though, when my mom was in her twenties, my grandpa spent a lot of time away from home, specifically a lot of time at the bar, and my grandma didn’t like that too much. She never drank, which people find odd because she was German, but it just wasn’t her thing, maybe because my grandpa drank enough for the both of them, and then some. On this particular day my grandpa was sitting at the bar drinking a glass of beer, and my grandma came storming in and started yelling and cussing at him and causing a general ruckus that was familiar to the other barflies because it wasn’t the first time she had made a scene about dragging my grandpa out of the bar, but it was the first time that she ever grabbed his beer glass out of his hand and dumped it all over his lap before she stormed back out the door. I remember my grandpa being very feeble for my whole life, so it’s hard to imagine him retaliating against my grandma’s frighteningly fierce German rage, but the way my dad tells the story is that as everyone in the bar looked on at the womanly hurricane that had just flown through, my grandpa grabbed the beer glass and turned and chucked it at the door just as it was closing.

My dad laughs when he tells the story, and I can picture it all unfolding in the dark bar like a scene in a movie. I picture my grandpa’s good-natured smile that always brightened his face no matter how feeble he was as an older man, and I picture my dad laughing with his buddies, not having the slightest clue that these characters would someday become his in-laws.

I mentioned a while back that it was a goal of mine to interview my parents about when they were younger and write a story about a story they tell me. I’d love to do a collection of nonfiction essays someday about their childhoods and when they first started living together, because as time goes on I realize how much there is that I don’t know about them. I’ll always regret that I never interviewed my grandma more about her relationship with my grandpa, because they had a very storybook romance- a German woman who doesn’t speak English falls in love with an American soldier during World War II and has to wait until she’s 21 to move to America to marry him. But the twist comes in when she gets to America and discovers she has to live in a shack in the backwoods of Virginia with her husband’s parents and his brother and brother’s wife too. Serious, serious hillbillies. I’d still love to write about that someday, and I think between interviewing my relatives and digging up my grandparents’ old love letters it’d definitely be a fun endeavor.

And speaking of stories, and accomplishing goals from my sort of New Year’s resolutions, I’m also working on a nonfiction piece right now that I plan to submit to a writing contest in the Toasted Cheese Literary Journal. It’s about the time I almost burned down my friend’s house in the summer of 2007, and also swam in the Wisconsin River and went on a pontoon for the first time.

I am also trying to get through all the sad unread books on my bookshelf, and right now I’m currently reading Oyster Blues by Michael McClelland, who is a professor at Wittenberg. I never had Mac in class but my friends always carried on about how he was the coolest guy ever, and I found one of his books in the used book shop in Yellow Springs a few years ago. I’m glad I’m finally getting around to reading it because it’s really good!


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