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Rich: A story told well can be timeless

POSTED: November 18, 2008 5:00 a.m.

When I was a child and given to daydreaming as children often are, I dreamed of what I would be when I grew up. I wanted to be strong, courageous, glamorous and well-traveled. And more than anything, I wanted to tell stories.

As children, we often practice what we want to do when we're adults, so I was often telling stories. Now, I did not lie, for dishonesty was the No. 1 sin in my daddy's house. So I always told the truth when questioned about some bit of mischief. But, at other times, I told grand, elaborate stories that I imagined. And now the childish practice for which once I was spanked, I get paid to do.

Isn't it grand how life can work out?

From the cradle on, I loved stories and the power of images created by words woven together into grand tales. I have many memories of sitting around the kitchen table with my parents and their friends as they shared coffee, cake and an abundance of stories. I would fall asleep at night, listening to my parents as they exchanged stories and recollections.

When I was 11 and saved my mama's life when a vicious German shepherd attacked her and was ripping her into a bloody mess, I was writing the story in my head as it happened.

The dog was twice as big as me but he fortunately had on a collar and I was able to grab him by it and pull him away. As I fought with my entire strength to hold him at bay, Mama, her skirt torn to bloody shreds, shakily got up from the grass. I screamed, "Get in the house! Now!" For once, Mama listened to me.

During this entire episode of fear and courage combined, I was writing the story in my mind: The little girl dressed in a navy scooter skirt and red top was barefooted as she held on for dear life to the raging dog that wanted to kill.

I loved stories so much that I fell asleep every night listening to them. Yes, stories are powerful when written well, but it is hard to beat a story that is told well verbally.

I had a stack of albums that were filled with narrative children's stories. These stories were parables and always had morals to them. Usually, the children were faced with making a decision between right and wrong. I would put the record on my little phonograph and let it play an entire side - usually seven or eight stories - when the needle had played across the record, it would automatically turn itself off.

I would set the record, crawl into bed and turn the light off. Every night, I fell asleep listening to these powerful stories so well told by the actors. This was years before anyone thought of the term "audio books."

A while back, I was perusing the enormous selection of books at Square Books, the famed bookstore in Oxford, Miss. I stumbled across one of the greatest prizes I have ever discovered. It was a recording of Eudora Welty, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Southern author, as she read three of her most popular stories: "Why I Live At The P.O.," "Powerhouse," "The Petrified Man."

This CD has become one of my prized possessions. I am entranced by the late Miss Welty telling her stories in her soft, Southern voice and calling out, "Stella Rondo! Stella Rondo!" To truly know an author's work is to hear her own inflection and delivery of a story she has written.

I play this CD often and it brings me quiet joy and, in a way I guess, it takes me back to those old phonograph records of my childhood.

I guess I'll never grow too old to appreciate hearing a story well told.

Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Sign up for her newsletter.



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