Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

We Are Our Stories ...

Yesterday, I did a little post on Facebook about finishing the last of the novels and novellas of Philip Roth, books I had not read before. The last was the one you see pictured--The Prague Orgy, which serves as kind of a coda to his trilogy Zuckerman Bound.

One of the quotations near the end struck me--and I posted in on FB. Here 'tis:

 "No, one's story isn't a skin to be shed--it's inescapable, one's body and blood. You go on pumping it out till you die ..." (782).

Well, yes, you do go on pumping out your story until you die (though you have fewer and fewer listeners as you age), but what I wanted to write about today is something a little different--about how your stories disappear when your older loved ones die.

My dad (1913-1999) was a great storyteller. He loved telling jokes (where had he heard them?), especially ones that were vaguely "naughty," stories my mother (feigning?) despised. One was about a drunk on a bus, a drunk seated next to a Dunkard preacher. The drunk spends some time checking out the ... different ... appearance of the Dunkard, then asks: "Hey, buddy, what are you?" The preacher replies, "I, sir, am a Dunkard pastor." The drunk replies: "Shake, buddy--that's what the driver just called me!"

My dad also liked to tell stories about his three little boys--about the time my older brother, Richard, burned his stomach badly on a barrel full of burning trash--about the time Dad, pitching baseballs, hit little brother, Dave, in the cheek with a curveball that didn't. And then this one about me:

Scene: A filling station in Illinois. A family trip. Little Danny is pre-school.

According to Dad, Little Danny hopped out of the car, unzipped his pants, grabbed hold of what was inside those pants, approached the attendant, and declared: I need to take a nice fresh teetee.

And then Dad would laugh so hard he would turn bright red and perspire.

As I said, my father has been dead since November 1999. My mother, 95, does not remember a lot. My two brothers know the filling-station-in-Illinois story--but only because they'd heard it from Dad. I'm guessing that Illinois attendant has emerged from therapy by now and has forgotten--or repressed--the incident.

What I'm saying is that when our loved ones go, our stories go, as well. And isn't it a desperate thing when there is no one left to tell them? No witnesses? When Dad told that story, I was (depending on my age) embarrassed or entertained or impatient (jerk that I was). I didn't realize at the time that those stories were like the strong arms of my father, arms that could hold me, protect me. Could make me feel immortal.

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