6.06.2008

Becoming a Storyteller, Part 2

My Grandpa Andy tells stories with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.

We used to sit at a little bar in his kitchen while he cooked us grilled cheese sandwiches. . The kitchen and the house were magically attached to the Long Ships Motel in Sault Ste. Marie, the family business.

"Everybody eats their crust at the Long Ships!" He exclaimed as he pushed our sandwiches across the bar to us. The sandwiches looked perfect sitting beneath the square modern lights hanging low over the bar.

Truthfully we finished our crusts anyway, so we weren't that surprised by this dictum.

"If you can't finish your crusts...I'll have to take you downstairs and file your teeth. If you don't eat your crusts your teeth won't be sharp enough. I'll have to file em til they're sharp."

Our youngest brother wanted to call his bluff-- "Na-unh, Grampa. Not really." (He was always the bad brother.)

"Oh yeah." Grandpa Andy assured us. "I had to sharpen Toby's teeth last week because he would not eat the crusts."

The crusts on those sandwiches were growing thicker and more overwhelming every minute.

"I ever show you that file?"

We shook our heads, no. He disappeared down the basement stairs with the joy and vigor that some grandfathers reserve for collecting candy for their grandchildren.

While he was gone, we started the grilled cheese and speculated about the veracity of these claims. We all agreed that he could not and would not file our teeth. Grandfathers simply did not do that.

But then he appeared with a bounce in his step, a twinkle in his eye, and the BIGGEST FILE I'VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. Big ugly ridges, an unwieldy handle. It looked like something you'd use to do cement work or kill a very large rodent or rip away a faded but persistent surface from an ancient wall.

It also did, genuinely, look like a file.

"Na-unh!" said Daniel. (I'm telling you, this kid was bad news. No respect for his elders.)

"I had to take Toby down there last week. He's been eating his crusts real good ever since."

Toby was our cousin, same age, who lived in the Soo, and so, saw our Grandpa much more frequently than we did. The appeal to his authority was a genius stroke on Grandpa Andy's part. Toby was a real source we could consult, but not one who happened to be here at the moment. All that happened to be here at this moment was Grandpa Andy, three skeptical (and fearful?) brothers, the biggest file we had ever seen and crusts that seemed to grow in size and crustiness with every bite nearer to them.

What happened next elevates this afternoon tale from it's otherwise mundane character to the epic, legendary status that it continues to hold today:

Toby walked in the front door.

Because the Motel Office was the entryway to their house, any newcomer was announced by jangling bells. When Toby arrived, jaunty, innocent, red curly hair, we smirked inside our grilled-cheese-filled mouths. Grandpa Andy's jig was up.

"Toby!" said Grandpa. "I was just telling them about how I had to file your teeth last week when you didn't eat your crusts."

Toby nodded solemnly. It was true. His teeth had been filed.

I remember thinking to myself: Impossible! How had Grandpa Andy managed to make him a confederate?

"Na-unh!" said Daniel. (Good children kept such outbursts to themselves.)

But Toby nodded and Grandpa Andy said: "Now he eats those crusts real good!"

And we all ate our crusts. Every bite.

Sharpening teeth was so believable and horrible and wonderful that we WANTED it to be true, even though it would be the most fearsome thing imaginable if it were.

From Grandpa Andy, I learned that a healthy space of ambivalence - a little belief and a little skepticism -- proceeding from a twinkle in the eye, a cleverly placed prop or a mysteriously confirming testimony -- can do a lot to make a good story *and* a good time.

2 comments:

Daniel Rudd said...

nah-unh

joeldaniel said...

andrew...i'm thoroughly enjoying these thoughtful little storytelling pieces...thanks for sharing!

jdh