Over the past year or so, many fine storytellers have passed away, including, but obviously not limited to: Janet Kagan, Julian Rathbone, Stephen Marlowe, Robin Moore, Edward D. Hoch, Norman Mailer, Carol Bly, Dan Fogelberg, Kurt Vonnegut, Sidney Sheldon, Dawn Thompson, Phyllis Whitney, Bob Smith.
You might not have heard of that last one.
Robert E. Smith, Jr. (He didn't like that Jr. part.)
Son of Robert, who traveled small towns in the South to decorate their Main Streets for holiday parades and events. Marine who fought on Guadalcanal during WWII. Husband to Betty, then husband to Ruth. Father of two. Grandfather of two, plus two. Thirty year dedicated employee. Friend to many, frustration to some.
To me, he was Granddaddy. My first storyteller, my second father. At times the great love of my life, at others a burden felt deeply, guiltily. My conscience. My supporter. My critic.
Always, my storyteller.
He walked in a room and people turned, beckoning fingers in the air: "Bob, hey Bob, tell the one about the fish/ Mexico/ that girl in the truck/ Nashville!" And he always did. And I watched, and listened, and learned.
My storyteller taught me about pacing, and tone, and humor, and conflict, and about the power of insult and love at the same time. He laughed readily and well, at a confusing wealth of things; wit demanded from family, but Benny Hill tuned into on TV.
Some stories came more easily than others with age, but the skill remained. The memory faltered, but the voice kept cadence.
He lied to me frequently: his middle name was Elijah, the sky wasn't blue but clear and I was seeing it through my blue eyes, the scar on his forehead was from a Japanese bayonet.
The lies were pretty, valuable as currency in my developing writer world, he the wealthiest inhabitant.
The stories, the lies and the truths, fell away in his final weeks, the voice lost in his final days. In his last 24 hours he reached out and spoke to Ruth, his wife, dead three years now. His final story to me? Lie? Truth? Does it matter? Did any of them?
March 5, 2008, my storyteller left me. I am numb. I am lost. I say that I am okay. It was his time, I knew that, I am comfortable with that. 87 is a long time to live. I lie and lie and lie.
My new book waits for me to write it. How is that possible? Does my story still exist? Does he? Is one possible without the other?
I wish you peace, Robert E. Smith, Bob, Smitty, Major, Daddy, Granddaddy, all the pretty lies, all the truths, all my gratitude, all my grief.
A story waits. I'll be here when it comes, I'll be here when you bring it.
The Storyteller, 12/13/1925 – 03/05/2008.