Southerners love a good story. Truth be told, most Southerners are pretty decent storytellers. Of course, the question of whether the truth will be told would be purely conjecture since Southerners are equally as fond of embroidering an okay story in order to give it some punch and, hence, a longer shelf life.
Take, for example, someone tells that a friend’s teenage son “borrowed” the family car to go for a joy ride. The story can go something like this: “Aw, Joe’s kid waited til his folks had gone to bed, took the keys off the kitchen counter and went out for a ride in the family car.”
This is a story with which anyone who’s had a teenaged child – male or female – can identify. It will emit some sympathetic nods and pats on the arm, but the stuff of legend, it isn’t.
Now if you hear the fully-embellished version about how the kid rustled up enough nerve to lift his dad’s keys from the bedside table, tiptoed down the creaky wooden hallway and down the stairs stepping on the cat’s tail before he tripped over the family dog who had just pulled a chocolate cake off the kitchen table ten minutes after dad had been downstairs sneaking a piece of the cake scheduled to be delivered to the church bake sale the following morning, the story grows a whole new set of legs. And you haven’t even gotten into what the kid did once he got in the car.
By the time the story’s been told around town a few times with every teller adding his or her own twist to make the tale better, the original teller may not recognize it as his own. The embroidery adds color, excitement, and memorable moments to otherwise run-of-the-mill yarns that would barely emit a smile, much less command the listener’s attention for as long as it takes to repeat them.
Take, for example, the story a friend of mine shared with me about a summer evening, three siblings, and parents gone to a meeting. Not being the garden variety “we stole the car” story, I was intrigued and begged to know more.
Seems Linda’s parents had gone to a meeting one evening at their church. They were going to be out for a couple of hours, so Linda and her siblings decided to “borrow” their mother’s car to go to the store. Linda’s older sister was supposed to be watching the younger two and, since she was old enough to be trusted with her brother and sister, she figured that gave her chauffeur rights, as well. She was 14.
As soon as their parents left the house, the three kids decided to make a run for the local grocery store to pick up a few snacks. After all, their folks would be out and unavailable to ask. So the three kids pile into their mother’s green Chrysler and head for the store. The older sister was sitting on a couple of pillows with her chin stretched wa-a-y out over the steering wheel looking for the ribbon of asphalt she hoped would stay beneath the wheels of the car.
The kids avoided the watchful eye of the local authorities as they crept toward the Piggly Wiggly in their mother’s green sedan. Their mission accomplished at the grocery, they triumphantly hopped back into the car for the ride back home through the streets of Claxton. Fortunately for a lot of people, Claxton isn’t all that large.
As they approached their house, reality reared its ugly head: Their father’s blue sedan was parked in the driveway. That meant their parents were home. And the kids were busted.
Panic stricken, Older Sister slammed on breaks and opened the car door as she slowed down to about 25 miles an hour.
The words just beginning to register with the younger members of her family, Older Sister hit the brakes to give the kids a chance to hop out. Only problem was that Linda fell getting out and her legs rolled underneath the car. She burst into tears just knowing she was permanently marred.
Telling her she was okay and to quit being such a baby, Older Brother pulled Linda to her feet and literally dragged her across the yard and around the house where they would pretend to have been sitting on the back porch all along. Never mind that the six-year-old has tire tracks across her legs.
Did it really happen that way? Who cares? It makes for a great story and that, my friends, is the name of the game.
Helen Person is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Me nombre es anónimo
04/07/10 at 10:57 AM
When I was little I did a social experiment. I started a very simple, characterless rumor about an object in the neighborhood. Within a month it had morphed into 10 different stories involving a wide range of people (some of whom were real).
I'm pretty sure no one got hurt, but it did teach me the hazards of rumors, and the fallibility of human memory.