Southerners are born to tell stories.
It’s undeniable. It’s instilled in us at a young age sitting in Grandpa’s lap listening to the grand adventures he’s been on in life. Some are blown out of proportion, some are told out of order, and some take a while to tell, but they made us fall in love with the performance.
Campfires and sleepovers are incomplete without fictitious ghost stories in attempts to scare everyone but the storyteller. Every life event of minor importance became a grand tale of hilarity and adventure. These stories changed each time they were told, always recited orally giving homage to Homer, but Muses were never needed.
The best novelists of Southern literature incorporate all aspects of a Southern storyteller at full-length; Conroy, Twain, and Fitzgerald come to mind. These authors practice the art of digression perfectly, just as southern grandparents do. My grandpa, in particular, has a knack for digression, telling five stories apart from the one he began telling, only to tie them all together.
“I saw Ole Herman at the store last week,” he’d say, his words forming slowly as he carefully laid out his story in his head. “You know he used to be a mechanic. Years ago you couldn’t find a better auto-mechanic from here to California. Well, he got hurt on the job some time ago and hasn’t touched a car since. It’s a shame ’cause the man had a set of pretty cars. This one car, I believe it was an old Chevelle, he bought off a man down in Hamburg. Now that was a car. You could take it from Warren up North to Fayetteville, maybe further, and not find a better car. He let me drive it for a bit when my car was parked in his shop. It was too pretty a car for me to take long distance, so the farthest I went was to the store. That grocery store up in town has been there since this place was built. Herman used to exchange his service for a sack of groceries. Back then you couldn’t pick your own groceries; you’d hand ’em a list and they’d fill your bags for you. He don’t get that tradeoff anymore, but they still give him a discount on account of his age and years of service before that. He was doin’ good though. Told me to tell you hi.”
This is not an actual story my grandpa has ever told me, but the premise is the same. That’s five stories in one conversation with my grandpa where he was just relaying a message, but it’s more than just the digression. The subject matter, and the way in which these stories are told is what makes them pure and beautiful in their rawness.
The older generation takes long pauses, with long, drawn-out syllables to radiate their laid back nature. The younger generation tells stories in a fast-paced manner because they’re trying to get it all out as fast as possible before their audience loses interest. They get loud, talk fast, use hand movements, reenact events; it’s a performance! Southern children use their hands as props and the world is their stage. Everything is a story.
Family gatherings consist of sharing stories. The only time television is in the equation is if there’s football or racing on. To this day my favorite part about seeing my grandparents in Warren, Arkansas is sitting on the front porch with my grandpa, my cousins, and my brothers, and just sitting, listening, and laughing to the stories they tell while sipping on some ice cold sweet tea.