I come from a long line of storytellers.
Long before the printing press, and long before literacy became commonplace, generations used oral tales to preserve cultural folklore and pass along family stories. Now, we celebrate World Storytelling Day on the Spring Equinox here in the northern hemisphere. In addition to exchanging stories in our own communities, the Internet helps us share stories across cultures. This year I’m sharing a true tale told by my father when I was young.
“Who’s He Talking To?”
Church is a big deal for most folks in my hometown as it is in practically every part of Arkansas. True to form, there are many stories of my line of Cotners and their interaction with ministers, preachers of the gospel, and the corporate social body known as church.
My grandfather and grandmother were Methodists and attended the United Methodist church in Booneville.
The first ever story about church that sticks in my mind was told to me by my dad relating a story concerning the first time, as a very young boy, he attended Methodist services with his mother.
Seated there with the rest of his family on the pew among the faithful that Sunday for dutiful worship, dad—ever the fact-based skeptic—listened intently for some time to the sermon. The minister was playing his part, delivering the message with vigor, waving hands and arms and often looking up to the ceiling imploring the Almighty for one thing or the other as if God were some cheap vending machine that—if enough selfish prayers were plopped into it—would dispense a little treat out and down to the aluminum tray at the bottom for its users to enjoy.
Finally, curiosity got the best of my dad and, in a lull in the preaching he turned to my grandmother and loudly asked, “Who in the world is he talking to?”
With the kindness, compassion, understanding, and motherly love only my grandmother could have shown, she whirled around on the pew and slapped my dad hard on the head and said, “Shut up!”
As the story goes, about half the congregation laughed and the other half seemed angry at my dad’s questioning. No one ever redressed my grandmother and no one ever gave my dad an intelligent, rational, thoughtful, answer to his question.
So, needless to say the blow and the incident left quite the impression on my dad; and I’m not just talking about the big red welt that came up on the side of his head.
This story, along with the fictional tale inspired by my dad’s experience, is included in my short story collection Storytellin: True and Fictional Short Stories of Arkansas.