My husband Gary is a man of many stories. He’s served in the Army, worked as a teacher, a school administrator, a firefighter, and as a business manager at a university. He’s traveled extensively, and never met a person he didn’t enjoy talking to. Thus he has collected many anecdotes which he enjoys recounting. He often doesn’t recall the exact details, but it never stops him from telling the tale. Not so long ago, we watched an old movie that prompted him to tell me a story about an incident that happened years before I knew him.
Gary was on a plane seated next to a woman who “used to be really famous,” he said. 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. He had remembered the story because the female lead in the movie we were watching, Loretta Young, was the woman he’d met 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.
I’m not sure why this page from Gary’s Book of True (Mostly) Stories popped into my head today. Maybe because of two conversations I recently had with two different friends, during which I learned some previously unknown things about each of them. I’ve had a number of good, in-depth conversations with both women in the past. But somehow the tragic story in the case of one friend–her mother’s loss of multiple family members in a tornado, and in the case of my other friend, the happy story of her interviewing a favorite writer of mine, Robert Parker, had never come up before.
That in turn reminded me of something my first editor told me. I was whining about an assignment to do a feature story on an elderly woman’s doll collection. It wasn’t exactly the cutting-edge journalism I’d signed on for. But I’ve never forgotten what my boss said in response. “Everybody has a story. If you listen well, you’ll find it.”
This week I’m going to listen for a new story. I hope you do, too.