Wednesday, May 16, 2007


"No! That's not how it happened!"

In a currently posted blog elsewhere, a fellow writes about an experience he and another man shared more than ten years ago. (These two haven't been in touch for almost that many years.) The blogger was delighted to read online his old buddy's account of a dramatic event they shared (they had nearly drowned), but was in quite a rush to clear up "the facts." Buddy had made several "mistakes." None of them changed the point of the story, but still. . . . Blogger felt it was important to get things straight.

Ah, that we ever could!

Mark Twain said that a person who could spell a word only one way showed a shocking lack of imagination. And none of us--certainly not Twain--can be relied on to tell the same story the same way twice. Blogger's Buddy was telling one of the major stories of his life ten years after it happened. Do we think he has told that story before? A hundred times? And wouldn't it naturally ripen and mature with each telling?

Some decades ago, I broke both my ankles sliding down a firepole in the mountain cabin of some friends. By the time it was over, it was quite a story, including as it did a hospital contratemps, growing rumors about how the accident had happened, and, some weeks later, a large public speaking engagement with me spouting forth from a wheelchair. Lots of melodrama and hilarity, at least for the spectators. This particular story needed no embellishment, though I'm with Twain on the value of elaboration and embroidering of anecdotes generally.

But an enhanced version of the story surfaced some years later, when I overheard a colleague of mine (from a rival university, no less) telling the story--except that she had cast herself as the owner of the cabin (and firepole) where the bones had been shattered and as the Rescuer who had whisked me off to be pieced together. Neither fact was "true" but each certainly added to her fun in telling the story. Which brings up the very interesting question of why we tell stories anyway. But another day for that.

My favorite version of the firepole incident, however, was the brief but lively rumor that I had smashed up by jumping off a mountain outhouse in pursuit of a well-known and skittish local bachelor. All pure fiction. But it's that outhouse that shows what really gifted storytellers most folks can be when encouraged.

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