In my family, my mother’s sister is the best storyteller. I haven’t seen Aunt Marian, who lives in Washington, for fifteen years until this week when she came for a visit. We all settled in to hear her tell and retell stories about all of us and experiences from her life. She is 91 years old and still keeps us leaning forward to hear what will come next.
Some of my favorites are about the FBI, Liberace, and graves.
The FBI recruited Marian and a couple of her friends in high school during World War II. After graduation, the girls left the small (1200 population) farming community in Wisconsin to share rooms in Washington DC. Their jobs were to message secret reports that were hand-delivered then (reminder, pre-computer days).
She came back home after two years with the FBI to marry the Navy man (Uncle E. J.) she met in DC. He had been shot while on a PT boat. During his recovery, Marian and my mom worked as waitresses. Jobs were hard to find during the war. The first restaurant owner who hired them was “mean” but they weren’t intimated and asked for a raise after a few weeks of work. Then they were taken to the police station to make statements about one of the staff people who went missing. Marian told them they obviously weren’t guilty of anything because she had worked for the FBI and then she willingly offered help in finding him. They thanked her with assurances they could handle it.
The next restaurant (since their request for a raise was denied, they moved on) was the one where Liberace got his start as a performer. My uncle joined them as a member of the server crew by then and the three of them often ate sandwiches and had chats with Liberace after serving hours were over.
Of course, she told cemetery stories too. Local vandals switched headstones to other graves during a two week period. Our ancestors were buried there so Marian wanted to solve the mystery and catch the scoundrels, but my mom and uncle talked her out of it after one shivering night hiding in the cemetery waiting for the next “crime”.
Aunt Marian knows how to hook us (often with little laughs before she begins a funny story), she knows how to arc her stories, and how to lead us to the climax. She enjoys our Wow’s or laughter responses. At family gatherings, the rest of us don’t try to tell the yearns even the ones we remember because Marian is the designated storyteller.
Who is the storyteller in your family? What kinds of stories do they tell? Do you spot the elements of good storytelling that make that person the best?
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