View from the train

The art of storytelling

By TOM CASKA
Posted 2/26/20

For centuries, history relied on the oral art of storytelling to pass the tales of ole through generations. Although the stories get watered down through the years; they become embellished with feats …

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View from the train

The art of storytelling

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For centuries, history relied on the oral art of storytelling to pass the tales of ole through generations. Although the stories get watered down through the years; they become embellished with feats of bravery, sorrows of love lost and joys of love found. The bottom line is, the facts are stitched into the story and the floral embellishments only make for a better illusion to the listener. I am talking about the stories told from rocking chairs on the porch of a rainy summer’s eve when the cool breeze of the rain would relieve the heat of the day. The stories that will stick to our ribs forever if for no other reason than they are being told by our grandparents, our parents or other relatives we love.

I for one am a storyteller, and with a life as well-lived as the one I’ve lived, I have many of them. One of the rules in the house is if the kids have heard the story before, they have a right to raise a hand to signal they’ve already heard it. More times than not, even though they have heard it, the hands will come down and they will say, “Okay dad, you can tell it again.” These are the times to embellish the story a little more, just to keep them coming back.

Where would we be without the storytelling of our elders before the digital age, even before the boob tube and shock radio? I for one am only too happy to see podcasts return as a strong medium to listen to the spoken word. A new generation is learning to listen, albeit the new listeners may be doing other things at the time. Listening is a major component of being a good storyteller; without being a good listener, one may miss the point of the story and the lesson it contains. With all the shouting going on these days, we can often wonder if anyone is listening or just applauding at the noise.

A few years back, an illness brought me to a nursing home for physical therapy and recovery. These were trying times for me, but I gained a profound appreciation for the art of listening. During my time there, I met many people, some my age or younger and many quite older. I found that if you took the time and patience, even the feeblest of these elders had a story to tell. Everyone has a story to tell, you just need to open your ears and heart to listen to it.  One of my more memorable experiences was with an older gentleman who, in his younger days, was the guy who would go into the inner cities of San Francisco and shut off the customer’s electric for non-payment of bills. He would joke that Jesse Owens had nothing on him and that he could leap a four-foot fence in a single bound, especially if there was a dog on his tail. Another gentleman used to write jokes for the Catskill comedians in his teens for a dollar or two a joke. He said all the other comedians would steal from each other and, “Those were the heydays of our Catskills.” So if you are waiting in line at the store and someone greets you with a “good morning how are you?” be sure to respond in kind, rest on your heals and hope they have a story to tell. You may never know what you may hear.

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