Monday, December 8, 2014

the first gift.

my friend George knows the storyteller's art. he pulls you in like fresh catch, asking you questions about yourself until he lures the conversation to the tale he longs to tell. i have always loved his stories, whether they be about his extended family or set in the high school locker room we girls could never enter, or at the 8th grade lunch table or about the quirky folks who made up our town when we were children. George seems to remember everybody he's ever talked to, the conversations he's had with them, moments in class from our junior year when a misstep by a classmate turned into the perfect comic moment. how his French teacher uncle always identified his students by name en francais. he is particular in his questions, mining for more stories as you talk.

i've probably known George my whole life — i don't remember meeting him at all. he was just always there, in kindergarten, in church, in the neighborhood. in his family he is the lone boy in a sea of older sisters. his father died tragically when we were in late high school. his father's twin sister lived next door to me. 

George's mother died this past week at 91, and though i couldn't make her service today, i sat down to write him a note. and then i thought better of it. and called.

when he picks up, his drawl of a voice stretches out for the length of the block where he grew up and where some of his family still lives. he is serious at first, though he assures me that all will be fine. his mother didn't suffer long. his father's aunt — also a member of our home parish — died at 100 only a few hours after his mother, so his extended family stands caught in their grief for both women, our tiny home church fielding two funerals in two days. we talk a bit about that, and then the stories begin, stories that follow a route through memory into laughter and back again.

i'm easily lured. as the last child of a family not kin to anyone in town, our family stories don't extend beyond a generation. But George is kin to practically everybody, by birth or by marriage. and he knows at least one story about almost every one of them. if i had a day or two to sit with him (and i wish i did) i know i would hear them all.

our phone call is cut short (at 45 minutes) because of a business call he has to take, but the time with him on the phone feels so much like the first gift of Christmas that i have given myself. i tend to forget, now that my mother is no longer living in the house where i grew up, how much that house and that place mean to me. 

yes, i could have written that note (i will Mama, not to worry), but now i will treasure the story that came because of the conversation. thank you, George, old friend. keep 'em coming.

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