This week I was reminded of something I first learned years ago when I was a reporter. Everybody has a story. Sometimes it’s a fun story – like the woman who met Paul Simon’s brother while she was wandering around a venue hours before the concert started, and got invited backstage. Sometimes it’s a scary story, like the man who was camping alone in the Porcupine Mountains when a bear invaded his campsite. And sometimes it’s a really sad story, like the woman who was separated from her baby brother when she was 10, and spent a lifetime trying to find him.
My husband Gary is a man of many stories. He’s served in the Army, worked as a teacher, a school administrator, a firefighter, business manager at a university, traveled extensively and never met a person he didn’t enjoy talking to. He often doesn’t recall the exact details, but it never stops him from telling the tale. Not so long ago, we were watching an old movie from the 1940s. It prompted him to tell me a story that happened years before I knew him. He was on a plane seated next to a woman who “used to be really famous.” Because he is almost completely devoid of interest in popular culture or bygone celebrities, he didn’t recognize her. She introduced herself and explained that she was flying to Michigan to be honored at an event and that she had retired and made only limited public appearances. They chatted and at the end of the flight she gave him her autograph. He tucked it in his pocket, forgot about it and at some point lost it or threw it away.
Watching the The Farmer’s Daughter with me reminded him of the incident, because the female lead was the woman he’d met on the plane. “That’s who it was, Loretta Young. The woman on the plane.” Impressed, because I’m a fan of old movies, I grabbed his arm and said “You sat next to Loretta Young?!” He hesitated for just a fraction of a second before saying yes. But it was long enough for me to flash on other confidently told Gary stories that have a fact-based core, but often dubious supporting details.
Upon repeated questioning he gradually acknowledged that it might not have been Loretta Young, it may not have been on a flight to Michigan, but it was definitely someone famous. That I believe. But whether it was Loretta Young, Loretta Lynn or Coretta Scott King, is lost to the ages.
What got me started on this story train of thought was a visit this week with my dad’s favorite cousin. At 90 Lois is lovely and kind and lively. She still works part-time in the family business. And she has many stories to tell. Her husband was in the Air Force and she and their children lived with him and traveled in many parts of the world.
“I fell madly in love with John when I was in high school, and I was lucky enough to have him for more than 50 years. I don’t watch much television, but when I see a travel show sometimes I think, ‘Oh, we walked on that street,’ or ‘Oh, I’ve been to that spot before.’ We danced on the beach at Ipanema once. We had so much fun that night.”
What made that simple reminiscence so striking to me was the flash of insight it gave me into a Lois very different from the one I know. I saw her for an instant not as a settled, grounded person of my parents’ generation, but as a giddy young girl, and as woman with experiences and memories of romance and adventure. She’s still warm and steady Lois to me, but now she’ll also be the girl who fell madly in love, the happy wife who spent a romantic evening dancing on the beach. Our stories embody and enrich our lives and when we share them they can enrich the lives and insights of others as well.
A police procedural movie from the 1940s, later a TV show, The Naked City, closed with this line “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” This week I’m going to listen for a new story. I hope you do, too.