2014-12-12 / Commentary

A Story Out of Your Mouth


David Treadwell David Treadwell When my wife Tina was a little girl, she delighted in hearing stories told by her favorite grandmother, “Nanny.”

“Tell me a story out of your mouth, Nanny,” she’d plead.

And Nanny would do just that. That spirited grandmother especially enjoyed making up stories about people the two of them saw when they were together. They might be waiting for a train at Grand Central Station, for example, and Nanny would strut her stuff, “See that sadlooking bald man over there, the one with the shabby brown overcoat? He just lost his wife, and now he has to take care of their nine kids, three dogs, two cats and goldfish all by himself.” or “See that young woman with the big smile? Well, her boyfriend just proposed, and he promised that for their honeymoon they could take the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner to London.” Tina would always press her grandmother to continue the made-up story, and Nanny would happily oblige.

Tina and I sometimes play that story game when we see strangers, although she sometimes chides me for the risqué thread that often weaves its way into my stories. More often, though, we enjoy sharing “real” stories with family and friends, retelling events which really happened, “Do you remember when ...?” It’s great when we can share our stories with new people. Just as a comedian hones an act by gauging the responses (or non-responses) to certain jokes, we have learned through repeated tellings what generates interest (or laughs) and what falls flat. We each have a tendency to want to seize the limelight — “No, that’s my story, let me tell it!” — but we’ve managed to work it out, somehow, with humor and harmony.

Our black Labrador Chowder, the Pavarotti of dogs who died 13 years ago, generated a treasure trove of stories, most of which revolved around food. “Remember when…Chowder ate 19 chicken bones….ate four pounds of raw beef left on the kitchen counter….went down to the edge of the shore to munch on a dead seal for several days. (“Seal sushi!”)….took a bite out of a cake at a baptism ceremony.” When we’re on a Chowder roll, we always recall the time Chowder went into the house of someone we didn’t know at Mere Point, walked up to the second floor and jumped into bed with a couple.

Not all Chowder stories contained a gluttony theme. When Tina had breast cancer, for example, and I was out of town on business, he’d let her sleep in late, almost until 10. (Whereas if I were in town he’d come into the bedroom at 6:15 am. sharp every morning and would whimper until I got up to take him out. He knew she needed her rest and acted accordingly.)

And then there was the night Chowder and I were lying on the rug, something which we often did when the television was on. He looked deeply into my eyes for a very long time, as if he were trying to tell me something. The next day he died unexpectedly. He was saying “goodbye.”

Incidentally, Chowder was our best wedding gift 25 years ago, a cuddly black bundle of love and mischief. But our second best present was not quite so cuddly. It was, well, we didn’t know what it was. Tina said jokingly, “It looks like a chamber pot cover.” So my French sister-in-law, who was making a list of who gave what, wrote “chamber pot cover’” beside the name of the giver. Later, we divided up the list of names for thank you notes.

I got the “chamber pot cover” giver, who was my friend from a past workplace, and immediately dashed off notes to her and the other people on my list. Yes, I thanked her kindly for the beautiful chamber pot cover, not stopping to wonder if that’s really what it was. She later wrote back a note, saying she loved my sense of humor, but that the gift was really a cheese tray. Mea culpa big time. I suggested that the “chamber pot cover” was our second best present, because we often haul it out to tell the story. Or, I should say, Tina hauls it out because she’s the one who loves that particular story, as you can imagine.

Grandchildren are always good story fodder. Eleven years ago, we were visiting my son Jon and his family in Philadelphia for Thanksgiving. We needed a meat thermometer for the turkey.

On the way home from the store, my two-year-old granddaughter Karis asked, “What did you buy?”

“A meat thermometer,” we replied.

“Do you put it in the meat’s anus?” she asked, a most sensible question, all things considered.

And then there was the time Tina’s oldest son Eddie, then three years old, was climbing up a neighbor’s apple tree.

“Get out of that tree!” yelled the lady.

“You’re not my boss!” retorted the indignant (and terrified) Eddie, as he scrambled down the tree and ran into the house.

My brother and sister and I would regale each other with childhood remembrances when we’d get together decades later. The night of the great taxi cab caper topped the list. That night we called four or five taxi companies to request that a taxi be sent to “our” house, which in fact was the house across the street. We turned all the lights off and peeked through the window to see the onrush of unwanted taxi cabs and resulting confusion. Later my brother felt so guilty that he confessed to our parents. Or maybe I confessed, I can’t remember. Anyway, the confession led to the three of us being marched right across the street to apologize to the neighbors. (And we were the “good” kids in the neighborhood, the ones who always got straight A’s!)

Who among us hasn’t endured horrendous travel experiences, which were later retold in later stories, often embellished for effect?

When you think about it, telling stories makes good sense. They help us share our humanity. They make people smile, always a good thing. They help us remember those who came before us, canine or otherwise. They let us reveal our foibles. They help us bond with others. And they help us feel alive. And when we tell stories, we often get some fine stories right back. And what’s not to like about that? So…tell me a story, please, right out of your mouth ...


David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes your commentary or suggestions for future column ideas. He can be reached at dtreadw575@aol.com.

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