My dad was a virtuoso storyteller. He could hold a roomful of people spellbound, recounting events from his life and others’ with wit, style, and humor.
Most of his stories he presented as fact and, for the ones I could personally vouch for, this was mostly true. He was not above embellishing for effect, but his life had contained so much real adventure that this was hardly necessary.
(Having a storyteller in the family has its drawbacks. The storytelling art must be practiced, each story burnished to a shine by retellings to different audiences. As a family member, you hear those stories over and over again, and some you get tired of – a common complaint especially among storytellers’ spouses!)
As he became increasingly house-bound in his later years, I urged him to write things down, to capture those stories forever and share them online. I knew that people would enjoy them, and the interaction with an online audience might alleviate his boredom and isolation.
But he never did. Partly because he was working for many years on a sprawling, complicated novel, the research for which led him eventually to a quite serious attempt to convert to Judaism. But maybe he also resisted because, to write down the stories and finally capture them in text would be to acknowledge that he might not always be around to tell them in person.
Whatever the reason, he did not write down his stories. When he died, one of my first reactions was regret that he had not. All those wonderful stories should not be lost! I wondered if I should try to write them down, but quickly decided against it. I had already lived much of my life as my father’s audience. It’s time to tell my own stories. Where our story lines run parallel and his stories are also my own, I will tell them, and maybe a few more, strictly his, that happen to crop up in my mind. But I will not make a concerted effort to be his scribe. I have plenty of stories of my own!
Yes, I have inherited the storyteller mantle. It’s only since his death that I can admit that I am my father’s daughter in many ways, including (perhaps above all) this one. Now I’m the one who entertains people (at least, I hope it’s entertaining) with stories from my rich, strange life. Sometimes when I do, I catch echoes of him in my own voice, gestures, and physical presence. I’m not large enough to have his rich, booming laugh, but I do have his sense of humor and delight at the vast, ironic complexity of the world and everything in it. And that’s a fine inheritance.