Story Teller

My father would build campfires big enough to be seen by Sputnik. And he’d tell stories. Wild, lavish, sometimes true, stories. And when he told them people listened. He was a master if ever there was one.

A campfire, the South Alabama woods. I was spending time with a Little League team. My bloodhound (Thelma Lou) was sleeping on someone’s lap.

The campfire smoke was the only thing keeping the yellow flies from sucking the flesh from our bare bones.

And I was telling a ghost story. It was about a one-legged man.

I come from a long line of storytellers and chicken thieves. I suppose you could say that much of my ancestry happened around campfires. That’s what folks did before iPads, iPhones, and shoot’em-up video games. We talked.

The Little League team sat in the dirt. A boy named Chris was petting Thelma Lou’s coat. Thelma snored.

I slapped yellow flies for dear life.

Long ago, my childhood Little League team would sit around campfires like this, eating weenies and beans from tin plates.

Boys on the team would emit smells from their hindparts potent enough to kill most small woodland creatures.

My father would build campfires big enough to be seen by Sputnik. And he’d tell stories. Wild, lavish, sometimes true, stories. And when he told them, people listened. He was a master if ever there was one.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t another boyhood daddy-worship column where I tell you how downright spectacular my father was. No, I wouldn’t waste your time with that sort of thing.

My father was downright spectacular.

It was the way he used his voice. It was a sing-songy kind of tone. Whenever you heard him use that voice, you knew he was either going to start a ghost story, or a four-hour sing-along of “I’m Henry the Eighth I am.”

His signature story, however, was the tale of the one-legged ghost. He always finished it the same way:

“…And EEEEVEN now, the old man wanders the forest, calling, ‘Where’s my leg?’”

Then Daddy would turn to some poor unsuspecting shortstop and shout, “GIMME MY LEG!”

And that child’s pants would be ruined forever.

A classic Daddy story-ending.

I have memories of him rocking in porch swings, telling stories to fellas who laughed at his inappropriate punchlines. I have memories of Daddy, standing on church steps, telling funny tales to several men waiting for the women’s Bible study to let out.

The cadence of his words did something to me. I wanted to be my father.

After he died, I wanted to do things he’d do and say things he’d say. That’s how it goes when your father dies. You try to keep him alive by becoming him. It’s instinctual, and at times a little pathetic.

I wore his eyeglasses, for instance, for a long time—even though I don’t need glasses. I wore his clothes to his own funeral. They were a hundred sizes too big. I was twelve.

And I told his stories. I still do. I can remember each one, word for word.

But, you can’t become your father. Eventually, you grow into yourself. You have your own face, your own big nose, and your own life tales.

I’m not the storyteller he was, I am only the second edition.

Still, somewhere along the way—by accident, maybe—I became a professional storyteller. For years now, I’ve been telling stories in front of generous audiences, on small-town stages, or around a campfires just like this one. It’s a strange line of work to be in.

When fellas my age ask me what I do for a living, I usually say, “I’m a storyteller.” Usually, they take a sip of their beer ask me if I’ve ever met Captain Kangaroo.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I spoke in North Alabama. A man shook my hand after my performance. He’d driven a long way just to see me. He said he graduated high school with my father a lifetime ago.

And it moved me.

Then, he told me a few stories about Daddy. Tales about a man I once knew.

“You know,” the man said before he got in his truck to leave. “You closed your eyes the whole time you told stories and sang songs. Did you know your daddy used to do that when he sang?”

How about that.

Anyway, every story needs an ending, so here’s one:

Where is my leg? GIMME MY LEG!

Well.

Daddy did it a lot better than I can.

19 comments

  1. Marilyn Vance - July 12, 2018 8:44 am

    Funny, my dad (and uncles) was a storyteller, too…..his usually ended with ‘who’s gonna stay with me this long, lonesome night and something in the barn said ‘Meee Sir”. When ‘me-sir’ got to the back porch, everybody’s eyes were bugged out and their mouths moving with the story teller……spooky….fun….

    Reply
  2. Toni Tucker Locke - July 12, 2018 10:44 am

    Thank you for sharing memories of your dad so often. My dad lived to be ninety-nine and I still miss him every single day. When I was a freshman in high school and wanted a tree-identification biology project he walked me through the woods (after the trees had lost their leaves), and showed me how to identify trees by their bark, carefully removing samples for my display board with his pocket knife. My algebra teacher talked me into giving him that board after it was graded. I never made high grades in algebra, but I passed. . . .

    Reply
    • theholtgirls - July 12, 2018 3:09 pm

      As a 4-H Forestry mom, I highly approve of this! I am highly curious what your Algebra teacher did with your Tree Bark ID board! 😀 Thanks for telling part of your story, and I love your last line!

      Reply
  3. Terri Boykin - July 12, 2018 11:28 am

    Tell you what, Sean, if your Daddy told stories better than you, then he was some kinda SPECTACULAR! Love you much, Terri

    Reply
  4. Sandra Smith - July 12, 2018 1:09 pm

    My Dad made stories and told them. I’m 64 yrs old, and if he were here today, I’d sit at his feet and say, “Daddy, tell me some stories” !
    These days, I implore all those who still have their story tellin’ father’s, to record him. It’ll feed your soul someday.

    Reply
  5. Edna B. - July 12, 2018 1:29 pm

    I love this story about you and your Dad and story telling. You see? You come by your talents naturally. That makes you both Spectacular! You have a wonderful day, Sean. Hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  6. Diane Fort Alloway - July 12, 2018 1:33 pm

    Oh Sean! This one was PERFECT and reminded me of my daddy oh so much. He was a story teller too and I loved when that sing-songy voice came round. His ghost story was reciting “Little Orphant Annie” and we’d scream each time at “An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at its you Ef you Don’t Watch Out!” because we knew he’d grab one of us. Oh how I miss him so. Thank you for this one.

    Reply
  7. Steve Scott - July 12, 2018 2:07 pm

    Do you post a schedule of places you are speaking?

    Reply
  8. Jack Darnell - July 12, 2018 2:12 pm

    Story telling, i thought I was a story teller until I read your stuff. I did do it for a living once upon a time. Nearly starved. I still get calls (maybe one a year!)_ Good one, this was a joy!

    Reply
  9. janiesjottings - July 12, 2018 2:15 pm

    Storytelling is an art, most people are bad at it but wow your dad was really good at it. His talent got passed onto you Sean and you do it so incredibly well. Your dad probably had big dreams for his children, most men do. He would be proud of you Sean, no doubt about it. If you ever come down to Cental Florida and I know about it I will be there. Thank you for continuing your dad’s legacy of storytelling. The world is a better place because of you!

    Reply
  10. Jeanne Butler - July 12, 2018 2:39 pm

    You are a wonderful storyteller. I look forward to your stories or musings every day. Thank you Sean ❤️❤️

    Reply
  11. Steve Winfield - July 12, 2018 2:57 pm

    My dad too. An absolute master. The one about him & the neighbor lady, (both divorcees), having some fun on a hot July day. A fan in a chair beside the bed was missing the front screen. In the heat of the moment she stuck her foot in the fan.
    Took him a bit to realize why she was screaming. He had a million stories.

    Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - July 12, 2018 4:32 pm

      Steve, I will never look at a fan again in the same way,,,lol….

      Reply
  12. Renee - July 12, 2018 4:35 pm

    Sean, I continue to be moved by your transparency and honesty. Thank you for sharing your stories and crafting them in such a way as to speak to my spirit and help me to enjoy these precious moments of life, present and past. I have some wordsmithing to do myself one of these days.

    Reply
  13. Janet Mary Lee - July 12, 2018 4:37 pm

    This is a very touching memory. How wonderful to have someone relate to you something new about your Dad.
    Telling stories well is a true art and you have it as your Daddy did before you. That makes my heart happy, and I know it makes your Dad’s heart proud. I love to hear about the good times with your Dad. They go too fast for us all! Have a wonderful day!

    Reply
  14. Linda Chapman - July 12, 2018 4:49 pm

    We love reading your stories, Sean! I read your post aloud to my husband every morning. Thank you for starting our days off with a smile!

    Reply
  15. GEORGE THOMAS JONES - July 12, 2018 4:56 pm

    I SAW YOUR PERFORMANCE AT THE OLD COURTHOUSE MUSEUM WHEN YOU WERE IN HARPER LEE TOWN AND WONDERED WHY YOU KEPT YOUR EUES CLOSED. Am surprised you never commented on my story of my dog looking for me during a church srtvice.

    Reply
  16. Katherine - July 13, 2018 11:31 am

    I’m glad you are carrying on the Ghost story tradition around campfires. It’s great entertainment.

    Reply
  17. Dianne Correll - July 23, 2018 6:34 pm

    You make the stories come alive!!

    Reply

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