Storytelling is an art form. And some of the greatest storytellers are the ones who do it naturally, without trying to be an artist at it. This especially includes people from the great generation who were born before World War 2. I spent last evening having dinner with three people from this generation. I believe all three of them were born in the 1930’s. I sat and listened to them tell stories about everything from early telephone technology to the Cuban missile crisis. They told stories with such joy that I was on the edge of my seat at their descriptions of life long ago.
There are a few reasons why their stories are so intriguing. First of all, they are from a very different era of history than myself. They can give first-hand testimony about life back then and very easily take me there in their sincere accounts of what they remember. Since it is their story, they feel the feelings and laugh the laughter all over again of the things that happened to them. Secondly, the stories they told were the ones that stood out among thousands of things that have happened to them over the years. So that means the stories they relate time-tested and worth telling over and over again. Finally, when you are listening to a 75-year old tell you stories, you are listening to someone with 75 years of life wisdom. That alone is worth spending time in their presence.
Though I cannot tell the stories as good as they can, let me give two examples of the things they were telling me. First of all, they told me about early telephones. Apparently, it was a luxury in the 40’s to have a private phone line. They said that many people had what was called a “party line” (I love that title). That means that when you wanted to make a phone call, you would first talk to the operator, then he/she would put you through to the party line. Once you were on the party line, their could have been several other people on the line at the same time, and you would have to wait your turn to say what you had to say to the person you were trying to get a hold of. So, you would hear the business of other people in town. Last night, Al said that when he was younger and on the town party line, there was one lady in town that seemed to always be on the line. I guess some things never change. But back then, if you loved the phone that much, you couldn’t always be private about it!
The other story that stuck out was when Al told me about the time his wife, Joan, had their first child. He was about 22 and she was about 19. They lived in rural Iowa at the time, which was around the mid-50’s. Joan began having labor pains in their trailer out in the country. They had only one neighbor. And this neighbor had the only phone between the two houses. So Al went next door to call the doctor about what to do with Joan’s labor pains. But Al was young and inexperienced in how to deal with a wife with labor pains. So when he arrived at his neighbor’s house, the neighbor (who did not know about Joan’s labor pains) cordially offered Al some coffee and cookies upon arrival. So Al sat down and leisurely had some coffee and cookies before calling the doctor. Then he finally called the doctor. When the doctor heard about the labor pains and how intense they were, he said, “Get her over to the hospital right away.” On the way to the hospital, Al stopped again at a friend’s house and had a turkey sandwich. When they finally arrived at the hospital, Joan’s mother was pacing the hallways, looking for her daughter and ready to kill her son-in-law. Fortunately, she did not kill Al and Joan had her baby. And they will never forget the humor of Al’s inexperience in “husbandry.”
So, go find some wise elderly folks and prompt them to tell you some stories from their past. Keep listening and perhaps you will get caught up in a world you never knew – but one that you can enter into just by listening to some first hand testimony.