He didn’t plan on me being a storyteller, he simply told me stories. Although he spent tired days at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Plant in Akron, Ohio, he came in from this exhausting day recounting how Herbie did or did not have chewing gum for us or how he found something shiny and wanted to share it with the six of his, his kids. Although I treasured the gum and the shiny coins, what I valued most was when my father told me stories.
My mother was and is a daily storyteller, each tale compelling and better than the last. But my dad was selective when he told stories. Instead, he listened to Mario Lanzo, singing his Italian in the shower. He would revel as Reba McEntire told her tales in song, or we would sit silent, or at least this was his wish, as we watch the TV reruns of Mayberry. Many days he coached the stories he wanted to hear on the radio. He spent hours calling disc jockeys asking for a George Jones song for Mom or a Don Williams ballad for him. He even arranged a blind date for me, although I never asked, with an Italian wonder. He stretched who I was just a little bit so I had to call her while she was on the air. Aw the story…
But my dad did not have to croon an Italian song to get my attention or provide me gum, but instead he often would grab us kids by the hand and take us to the backyard. It was me chosen for this duty most days, one which at the time I did not always take pleasure in, and we would stand in the backyard, at the far end, and this special time would last as long as my Dad decided. You see, my father loved animals and we had our own make-shift cemetery plot in the backyard where all our lost pets or at least their bones would reside. There was a wooden marker above fresh ground that read Jack on the wood. My brother Mike made it when he was just a teen. Dad stood behind the dirt, never on it.
He held my hand tightly, as though his grip told more of the story, and prayed over a litany of cats and dogs, a bird and a long list of gone friends. I remember the bird, “Tweety.” He knew this bird when I was not even in the plans. But still I would listen to this list because my Dad shared it for me. Each second told the same story. I love you son so much that I will share with you prayers for others that I love. Then, he would add to the list dogs and cats that I did know. Blacky, that obvious black dog that had the run of the house. You could hold him for hours and he would let you. Our cats, Pam and Mike, both males (another story) plus the names of my brother and sister and how they too could run across the back of the couch and even lay on top of your head. Some days we would play the ‘do you remember’ game where Dad would say, when Blacky fought with our other wild dog Jack and won.” And I would counter when “Jack out ran the mailman.”
On this Father’s Day, I want to tell him about Grizzly who we lost recently and Midnight, the wild cat who also left, but I don’t want to talk about loss, but what he told us, stories of gain. I want to share with him how our three cats all sleep in the bed, just like he wanted from his dogs, despite the warnings, shoutings from mom. How Barbara cradles Cammie and how Magic won’t go down the stairs in the morning until I do. When I return back to my first home, I will go with my wife Barbara and tell the stories that I heard from my Dad. She deserves to meet Jack, Blacky, even Tweety.
However, stories about pets were not the only stories. He would then ask me to look to the far reaches of the skies and ask, what do I see? I would say stars. He would reply, but some are blinking and some are not. The ones that are blinking are your kin watching over you. There is your Aunt Louise and she is watching you. She still sneaks chocolate despite having diabetes. Your Grandma Cordi and your Uncle Noble. Over there, that wild star is your Aunt Ruby. She has moved from her hill to a higher place. Then, he would hold my hand that much tighter and say, they will always watch you and protect you.
Now my dad is a blinking star. He watches, guides me and has enabled me, along with my mother, to share my world as an educator, storyteller, and pet lover. Sometimes I see Dad as that wild star that has run off to play Don Williams “I believe in you” and sometimes he is close to the other stars, as though he is watching them too.
My dad told me stories. I now tell my Dad’s stories. When he baked my brother Steve his form of Italian pasta or when he snuck the Reses cups before I could, or how at his Christmas in Preston County, West Virginia, he got a bag of oranges and my mom received one.
There are still stories that are hard to tell, about hospital visits, about broken necks, pain, medicine, but holding these stories together, like my father’s hand, is a tighter tapestry of kin, care, and commitment. The stories he didn’t speak about was sacrifice, but we knew it. We saw the missing hours when Dad was at work and the unselfish decisions that only improved us and gave him even less time. The extra hours at work, the time spent, not what we lost, but we gained.
As I work with words, I remember the rich narratives, spoken and unspoken that my father provides me. I look up in the sky and know I am not alone in finding them.
*Feel free to share your stories of the storyteller in your life. It is important to tell that story.