No, that's not the way it goes ...

Friday, September 21, 2012

I come from a long line of storytellers. They told stories about their lives. They didn't care much for made-up stories. Telling each other about the mundane events of real life kept them busy enough.

They were literal storytellers.

I, on the other hand, tell all kinds of stories. I've been telling them in newspaper columns for nearly half a century. Some of them are true. Others are not. I would put many of my stories in the category of representational reporting. What does that mean? Sometimes I make stuff up.

My mother would say I tell lies. Remember, she is a literalist.

So when I told you last week that I found a treasure chest buried by Louis J. Lorimier in my backyard, I was suggesting fact when, in fact, I was writing fiction.

I am making this disclaimer because two of the nicest women I know have indicated they believed my tale about the treasure chest. I do not want them to be hornswoggled. However, I did want to draw attention to Lorimier and the celebrated downtown golf tournament named for him that will be held Sept. 30. Please sign up if you haven't already.


Now, a little about my storytelling heritage.

My mother was one of five sisters. The oldest sibling was a brother. The five sisters specialized in storytelling of the kind that might bore some listeners but fascinated me.

In short, they told each other the intimate details of everything that happened to them or that happened to others based on what they had heard or deduced on their own.

The hallmark of their nonstop conversations was correcting each other. I never in my life heard any conversation between my mother and one of her sisters that went more than a minute or two without the first "That's not right."

The rest of the conversation would be a barrage of corrections and putdowns of the first order.

Sample:

"Sally Lou finally married Jake last week."

"That's not right. They were married a week ago Saturday, but they didn't tell anyone until last week."

"One of the bridesmaids was that cute Asian girl who works at the drugstore."

"She's not Asian. She's from Arkansas."

"Yes, but her grandparents were Asian, from China maybe."

"No, they weren't from China. They were Korean."

"Well, doesn't that make them Asian?

*

Even events from their own childhood were subject to dispute. How can you tell a story about your own life and have it questioned by your own brother or sister? You should have been at my mother's house the last Thanksgiving when she, two sisters and a brother were together. They were seated in her living room being quizzed by the next generation about the gaps in the stories we had heard about their childhoods.

Immediately, they got into an argument about my mother's middle name. Imagine that. Her middle name was Seal. She hated it for reasons she never really explained. She said that whoever filled out the birth certificate (she was born at home) misspelled her name. She said it was supposed to be Cille, after a relative who lived up the valley.

My uncle quickly corrected her, recalling he was at the house when the midwife assisted in my mother's delivery. He said his mother had high regard for the family whose surname was Seal and lived on the next valley over.

In short order, the Thanksgiving afternoon went downhill with siblings questioning every statement they uttered.

By the way, that was the Thanksgiving when I and my assembled cousins were told that our grandmother had been married -- and divorced! -- before marrying our grandfather. That fact had been kept secret for well over half a century, but it came spilling out as one sister was correcting another sister over some reference to our grandmother's early years.


Maybe you have relatives like this. Maybe you are one of those relatives. Maybe you think I found Lorimier's treasure chest in my backyard. Maybe you don't.

My advice: Look for simple clues. Like the fact that Louis J. Lorimier isn't even Lorimier's real name.

Uh-oh. Hope I haven't started another argument.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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