The Passing of a Storyteller
by Agent Palmer a.k.a. Jason Stershic
It was bittersweet work. But unlike other procrastinations, this had an accompanying emptiness.
Death was something that was a part of life, just like up was part of down and light of dark. But the cleaning of Granddad’s estate was not nearly the same as it was two months ago when it was just reorganizing the old man’s stuff under his direct supervision.
The silence this time was deafening. But, of course, when Granddad was around silence rarely followed. Trying to fill the room with music had failed because nothing seemed to fit in the space where stories once flowed. So, working in silence the old man’s voice seemed to fill the room with every creak and groan from the old wood, the house channeling its former occupant saying, “There’s a story to it all… Don’t you want to hear it?”
From bottle caps to records, family photo albums to jewelry boxes, and old TIME magazines to random newspapers kept from days with seemingly no historical value, the question begged to be answered.
When the old man was alive, all of these things were just launch pads for explorations into his history. Though all or most of it was undoubtedly true, or partially true, everyone was confused between what the old man had actually seen in the flesh and what he was merely retelling.
He always told his stories with the passion of a teacher attempting to enlighten students or those street prophets in old Rome, before the fall. Once they had your attention, they feared not just the end of the story but the loss of their audience. For great prophets, though, the end of one story was merely the beginning of another.
There were yarns of the great wars (all of them); lost family pets and mythical creatures (though which was which perplexed all who hear the tales); stories of boozing, crooning, and travel. Oh, those were the hardest to decipher the fact from the fiction.
The stuff in this attic was proof that Granddad was an extremely well-traveled man, but had he truly been around the world 18 times? Had one soul traveled to 74 different countries (103 if you were counting by the name of the location and not just the location as time changes all things sacred).
Nearly every shred of evidence was a concrete artifact verifying some tale – a ticket stub from some opera in Italy, the receipt for a seemingly ostentatious lunch in Peru, a menu stolen from somewhere in the Orient. But for each singular truthful relic found up here, there were 20 or 30 dozen more stories that could never be proven.
The proof, however, was never the most important part…
The stories themselves are what matter most. They are the treasures.
Those are the bits that the great storytellers hold more precious than anything else… But like Granddad, the great storytellers were disappearing.
And what would the world be like if there were no more storytellers? Sure, there were movie makers, musicians, and authors, but the kinds of storytellers that could captivate an audience, live and in-person with just their words, were one-of-a-kind, no matter how many times they were practiced their deliveries.
What did Granddad say? The movies were good, the books were nice, and the music was moving, but “none of the best of anything could compare to a tale in the talents of an experienced storyteller.” He’d gone on to say that he was only mediocre at best, though he still enjoyed the compliments from any audience he had, whether it was captive like when his kids left his grandkids with him, or with an impromptu audience comprised of random strangers at the Diner where he frequented for bacon and eggs, despite his doctors telling him that both were not good for him.
But why now, amid the physical clutter of an old unfinished attic, with its bare wood and rough edges, did the thoughts come? Why now, alone and thinking aloud to oneself through the decadent silence, did the true treasure emerge, only to be gone? Why now? Why?
Because the things that matter most aren’t always what you think they are. Just like one of the old man’s stories, where even if you thought you knew where it was going – BAM! – he would whisk you off in a completely different direction!
Yet they were all still highly believable… It was a natural gift. It had to be, or…
Perhaps it was genetic and something to be looking forward to. Maybe it was a learned thing, something that could only be mastered through practice, like woodworking or blacksmithing… It seemed more a skill than anything else, really, in the way a master could wield it, bending a story within its own truths the way heated steel could be worked into a sword. Just the same, a properly wielded story could pierce your skin or your convictions.
The attic was still full of boxes, some repacked recently and others undisturbed for decades. Granddad had been in this house for 65 years, after all. If these walls could talk, they would have just as many stories as the great orator who had lived here all that time. While they couldn’t actually talk, the walls could surely hint and tease. One just needed to look at the framed photos that protected the wallpaper, the plaster from a hole put there by two roughhousing grandchildren, and the many marks of a lived-in house.
No, this wasn’t a museum. It was a house that had truly been lived in. Every room had been used as something more. The bedrooms had been offices, studies, or libraries at one point or another. The living room and the den had been flip-flopped so often that none in the family could remember which was originally where. Even the dining room had once or twice been made into a bedroom, though that’s a story only a few members of the family had heard and the rest had been promised…
But those promises were now gone. And so were the attached stories. It seemed such a waste that they would never be unwound again, returned to the places from where they came…
Or would they?
Once passed on, could a well-worn tale truly be unwoven? Do words and memories ever come apart? Or do they remain whole, hoping to be remembered through another bout of silence?
In the end, it matters not, because there are very few who weep for the stories left untold. The songs not sung are rarely missed, and the masters who wound them in the first place are gone so long that no one remembers their names.
So it is, here in this attic… Surrounded by trinkets and dust that protect the true treasures under heavy layers of remorse or regret, only to be forever missed. Memories, like so many attics, are filled with dust.
Do not lament the passing of the storyteller any less than the passing of the story. Tell their tales with a rhythm of your own to engage and entice.
Above all, listen. Listen to the monologues from the masters that remain. Listen. Catch all of the stories that you can, carry them, and spread them like a Johnny Appleseed of anecdotes. Stories are the stuff of inspiration and lessons, of love and loss, and of all that makes us who we are.