Some people are good storytellers. I’m not one of them.
My grandfather Chandler is a storyteller. I see him and my grandmother Sharon in Houston during breaks and vacations when I can, and I saw them most recently this past August after my studies in Berlin. Granddad Chandler, referred to as “Gramps”, takes walks once the Texas sun begins making its way down the horizon in the early evening—the Texas heat is no joke. He asks me to tag along, which I oftentimes do. One of their five cats, Skeeter, tries to go on the walks with us, mostly to Gramps’ feigned dismay.
“That cat Skeeter, she is the silliest cat I’ve ever had.” This is quite a statement coming from a guy whom the schoolchildren from the nearby Mark Twain Elementary School and Pershing Middle School refer to as one half of “The Elderly Cat-people”. He and Sharon have owned at least ten cats that I can recall. “I have to stop at the corner of the street and turn around if she tries following me further than that, you know. She thinks she’s a dog more times than she’s a cat, and she’ll go with me on the entire walk if I let her.” He says all this with a laugh though, because he knows that I know that he loves company, cat or non-cat.
Whenever I accompany him on these walks, he breaks into stories from his life. He was born in 1936. When you’re born in 1936 and lived through the Great Depression and World War II and the Civil Rights movement and segregation and handfuls of wars and presidents and almost four decades as a sociology professor at Rice University, you’re bound to have a couple of stories. Funny enough, though, the ones he enjoys the most telling are the ones about family. They begin with “Hans, have I ever told you about…” and end with me recounting the synopsis to my grandmother Sharon.
“He told you what? That’s not what actually happened!”
Gramps contends that everything he tells is true, except maybe for the parts he makes up.
“Sweetie,” my grandmother retorts, “this is how that story really went…” She then retells the story with some changes here and there that explains the inconsistencies that were present when Gramps’ version was presented the first time around.
“Well, maybe that’s what did actually happen,” Gramps concedes, “but I still think my version was better. It had an extra flavor to it. Every good Texan should know how to tell a tall tale.” He lets out a laugh, a couple of twinkles in his eyes, his weathered teeth to let them breathe some fresh air – all the sentimental bullshit that grandkids love about their granddads. The baldness of his head reflects light that shines on it. “Speaking of which, Hans, have I ever told you about…”
My dad is a storyteller. He remembers the names of all his grade school teachers, the exact street where his buddies lived, and his interaction with young pup Lance Armstrong before he was famous.
“You knew Lance?”
“Yeah, I knew him. I think the better term would be that I jock-sniffed the shit out of him though.”
Dad was a history major at the University of Texas, which I emphasize disproportionately as to why he remembers so many little details in his stories. He was on track to being a philosophy major until he learned his fifth semester into his classes that formal theory, or logic, was one of the requirements for his major.
“I actually used to be a math guy, believe it or not,” he’s told me. I’ve seen him do math, so I opted for the latter. “I was an A plus student in my math classes until the fourth grade.” He bailed on philosophy that semester and picked up history instead.
Dad tells his stories when I use one of my lifelines and call him for advice. I called him earlier this semester about my Intro to German Culture course that I had enrolled in. The class was a requirement for the German minor. The class, in terms of the level of German, wasn’t out of my reach. I think I could have slogged through it because I could understand what was going on conversationally. Everyone else had been taking German for at least three years, or had lived in Germany, though, and I came out of my first class with t-shaped sweat covering the backside of my boxers. I realized I was going to have to spend an inordinate amount of time beefing up on German vocabulary to get on everyone else’s level. However, I was going to be taking six courses, or nineteen contact hours. If I stuck with it, it was going to be a giant female puppy.
“When I entered college, I was planning on being a pre-med student,” he began after hearing my concerns. “One of the classes I had to take was chemistry. The class was held in a huge lecture hall, with Dog knows how many students in it. I arrived early and sat in the first row for the first lecture, my five-hundred chemistry textbook and yellow legal notepad in front of me on my desk.” I don’t interrupt my dad when he’s telling a story, except for a couple of uh-huhs to let him know I was listening. “And I learned a couple of things after that first hour of lecture. The first was that everyone else had taken chemistry in high school and had at least a basic understanding of the subject, if not proficient understanding. This was practically a GPA booster for them. I, on the other hand, never took chemistry in high school.
“The second was that there was no way in fucking hell I was going to be a pre-med student.
“You know best what you can and can’t do. You’ve been in college long enough to know your capabilities. Figure out what your priorities are and what you want out of this semester. If you think you can handle your German class, along with the five other classes you’ll be taking, that’s great. If you can’t, son, you’re taking six classes. I’ll be the last person to tell you you’re not busting your ass.”
I guess I, too, have a story.
Carrying a foldable table to Tim’s house with Mark last night, two dudes in a car that was stopped at the intersection called out to me. They saw that I was wearing a beard and sporting a James Harden jersey.
“Fear the Beard, baby!”
What they didn’t notice, because the table had obstructed their view, was that my costume was a pun on James Harden’s name – that, in fact, the “e” on the back of the jersey had been replaced with an “o”, and that I had stuffed the top half of a water bottle into my shorts. I jumped from behind the table, pointed to the bulge, and responded, “Fear this, baby!” The men cried out in disgust and the car sped off into the night.