Remember to count each story a blessing

Published 10:29 am Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Column: Tales from Exit 22

I hear people say that there is nothing to do in a small town.

I know there’s not enough time to do it.

Email newsletter signup

A small town is much more than a “Gateway to Over There.” Residents, as sometimes portrayed, do not fear anyone armed with a passport.

I’ve lived in my ZIP code before it had a ZIP code. I love where I live.

I grew up a few miles from town in an era before cellphones demanded all our time. My father satisfied his wanderlust by going to town occasionally. I treated going to town as if I were approaching the railroad tracks. I stopped, looked and listened.

I recall going into the grocery store and hearing someone ask a clerk if the eggs were fresh. The clerk replied, “Feel one and see if it’s cool enough to buy.”

I sat on an uncomfortable city bench and listened to the tales of a man who I was told I could believe when he told the truth, but to not put much faith in his lies. He’d say marvelous things such as, “If I had a slice of ham, I’d have a ham sandwich, if I had two slices of bread.” He was a confused Confucius to me.

I lurked in the barbershop, where the first liar didn’t have a chance, and listened to the stories. Muriel Rukeyser said, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” It’s incredible that she could say such a profound thing without ever once visiting the barbershop. Customers and loafers talked about what happened in Vegas. I heard mesmerizing and mystifying tales like the one about the two brothers who were painting a barn. One was high up on a ladder when the brother on the ground asked, “Have you got a good grip on the brush?”

“I do,” replied his brother. “Why?”

“Well, hold on tight. I’m taking the ladder.”

The cafe was another stop for stories. It served great food, but stories were the story. I heard some great lines at that eatery. “Do you want the cheese on the plate or in a trap?” “I didn’t want my steak this rare. Call the vet. I think we can save the cow.” One day, we sat at a table near the window. We watched a man walk by one way and then the other. He was empty-handed while going in each direction. He repeated this action many times.

When we came out of the cafe after a delightful  repast, the man walked by again, once again carrying nothing. One in our group called to the man and asked him what he was doing.

The man’s response was, “I’m carrying boards from the shop and piling them in that shed.”

“Where are the boards?” we all asked at once.

“Oh, good gravy! I forgot the boards.”

The gas station was another spot where yarn spinning was showcased. An attentive ear heard discussions such as the following.

“You should stop smoking. It would prolong your life.”

“Years ago, I quit for a day. I never want to go through another day as long as that one.”

A neighbor told me that the patient next to him started licking him. The neighbor wished that he’d been at the vet’s.

Karl Wallenda said, “Life is being on the wire, everything else is just waiting.” Stories are my wire. I love stories. I try to pay attention. I count each story as a blessing. Everyone has them, but not all are willing to share. Especially triumphant accounts. Many folks who reside in sparsely populated areas believe that if you can’t say something nice about someone, you’re probably talking about yourself. Stories entertain and enlighten. Many true stories are made up. Flannery O’Connor wrote, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” Works for me.

I recall visiting a neighbor who was recovering from a fall down the basement stairs. His last name was Moss and he’d just recovered from a kidney stone before his tumble. He had battled kidney stones before. A rolling Moss gathers stones.

“Miss a step?” I asked.

“No,” Moss said, “I didn’t miss hitting a single one.”

A small town is no different than a big city. Each day is filled with golden moments waiting to be pressed into a little black book of precious memories. You don’t have to grab a calendar to seize the day.

Think of each story as the basement steps. The secret is to not miss one of them.


Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday and Sunday.