Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A story about a story...

The Editor and Busybody have recounted the story of spelling bottom in the abbreviated form, butt. I could put my own appendage (no pun intended) onto that memory: However, for some inexplicable reason, it made me think of a storytelling incident from my very early years. This happened when I was about the age they were in that memory.

On that little farm of my childhood, we didn’t have storybooks. Mama and Daddy told us stories. Mama usually told us stories from the Bible and sometimes Daddy would laugh and correct the names and details. That would make Mama mad. She guessed she knew as much about it as he did. And then they’d have to go looking up the real facts of the matter and they’d get so engrossed that they would forget the story in progress and so we’d rather have Daddy tell the stories. His were much more exciting anyway. He read the funny papers to us with sound effects and with a different voice for each character. L’il Abner and Dagwood and Little Iodine and the Katz’n’jammer Kids were all real people in my world. Dad was usually chewing on a toothpick and he would point to the words with the toothpick as he read them. Sometime between my third and fourth birthdays, we realized that I could read. We realized this because I would read the last block and blurt it out and spoil Dad’s finale. I guess he didn’t care because he thought it was pretty smart of me to have learned to read all by myself. (Being smart was the next best thing to being good.) We also listened to stories on the radio. Baby Snooks and The Lone Ranger and Fibber McGee and other wonderful stories enhanced and entranced me. But Dad’s were really the best. He told one story that went something like this:

Once upon a time in a dark woods, there lived an old man and an old woman in an old cabin made of logs. It had been a hard winter and there was nothing to eat and no wood to burn and they were cold and hungry and the wind was howling and the rain was coming down in solid sheets. The old man HAD to go out to try to find some provisions for them. While he was gone, the old woman got so cold, and he wasn’t there to sit close to her for warmth, that she decided to chop up some furniture and burn it in the fireplace. It must have been the light from the fire, but all of a sudden, there was a knock at the door. (Dad would knock on the side of his chair and we would jump out of fright and the knowledge that something awful was about to happen.) The old lady would enquire in a quavery, old voice “Who’s there?” And a big, loud, growly, strong voice would say, “I’m a panther and I’ve come to eat you up.” Now the old lady was kind of hard of hearing and so she said, “Well, you’ve come to the wrong place. I don’t have any ketchup. I was goin’ to put some up last summer, but my tomatoes didn’t do so good and so I didn’t.” The panther was really hungry and wanted to get inside to the warm fire and a good meal and so he growled even louder, “Are you dimwitted? (I loved that word) I said, I’ve come TO EAT YOU UP.” The poor old lady didn’t know what to do. She thought she had told him that she didn’t have what he wanted and she didn’t want to have to get up from the fire, and so she told him again, “Even if my tomatoes had been real good, I probably wouldn’t have made ketchup. I don’t have that many jars and I don’t see no need of buying more since I’m so old and all.” The panther was pacing up and down in front of the door getting madder and madder and all of a sudden, he JUMPED against the door and broke it down. When the old woman saw a big, black panther coming in she started screeching and screaming (“Now, Gigi, you and your sister stop screaming and sit back down and be quiet if you want to hear this story) and jumped out the back window of the house and started running around the house with the panther right behind her. There was no place to go and so she climbed up on the roof and hid behind the chimney. The panther saw her and started running right behind her. The first time around the chimney, he got close enough to reach out a paw and snatch off her apron and the next time around the chimney, he got a little closer and he snatched off her dress and the next time around the chimney he got even closer and snatched off the rest of her clothes. The next time around the chimney (NO, No, don’t let him eat her up!), he was going so fast she could feel his hot, stinking breath and then he reached out a paw…and…TRIPPED and fell down the chimney and got burned so bad he ran howling into the woods and was never heard from again. (What a relief!) And as we were giggling in relief and appreciation for the story, Dad would look around and locate Mom and then say with a grin and a twinkle in his eye, “now wasn’t that a bear tale?” (Pun intended.) And I would say in puzzlement, “It was a PANTHER!.” Mom would scold, “You better stop telling them kids that story.”

And he did stop. Mom and I went to visit our nearest neighbors, the Wards. There was a Grandpa Ward who sat out on the porch most of the time. We’d see him when we passed their place and I’d think he must be lonely. That day, I got tired of the woman talk in the kitchen and went out to visit Mr. Ward. All of a sudden, it popped into my four year old mind that MAYBE he’d like to hear a story…and what better story than the one about the panther. To my delight (and I’m sure his) I was able to remember every word, every dramatic pause and every sound effect—just the way Daddy told it. Just as I was ending the story, Mom came out to check on me and started giving me that “GiGi, what are you doing!” look. It didn’t bother me, though. I just looked at her with that same smile and twinkle that Dad always did and finished up the story with a flourish. (Sometimes when Dad told us astory, he would end it by saying, “my, my. That sure must’ve been something. I sure would’ve liked to have been there and seen that.”) Well, it was a toss-up as to who was the most embarrassed at the end of my story, Mom or Mr. Ward. But when he didn’t laugh or say something or react in any way, I put the other ending on to it. “My,my. That sure must’ve been something. I sure would’ve liked to have been there and seen that. How about you, Mr. Ward? Wouldn’t you’ve liked to have seen that?”

Mom and I left quickly. As soon as we got home, I went out to the barn to find Dad and tell him how good I’d told the story to Mr. Ward. Mom must’ve told her own version, later,though, because he started finding other stories to tell us.

Posted by The Editor for GiGi.

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