Sense and Sensibility: Story of a Storyteller

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See the little girl sneaking out of her room, across the green shag carpet, down the creaking stairs to the second floor of the tri-level house. Ducking past the large bay window where a meager display of plants are cradled in macrame hangers, she adjusts her silky baby-blue nightgown as it drags under her feet.  As tiny as she is, she feels like she’s taking up too much space.  Like a thirsty soul in a desert, she is drawn to the hushed whispers of the adults gathered in the kitchen.  She crouches low outside the door frame, so her mother won’t know she’s eavesdropping.  Again.

One woman with a brunette shag hairstyle framing her face, talks nonstop about her husband and an annoying neighbor.  The little girl, popping her head around the door frame risking being caught, watches the reactions of her mother and the other women as Mrs. Shag chatters away and twirls the tail of a brown scarf tied neatly around her neck.  Hiding behind the wall, the little girl closes her eyes as she listens to the drama unfold.  She loves these stories, any story, any drama will stir her imagination.  Pulling her legs close to her chest, she tucks her nightgown under her feet and rubs the silky fabric between her toes.  She can’t see the women now, but in her mind, she has a clear image of Mrs. Shag tapping ashes from her cigarette into a pile in the little beanbag ashtray that sits in the middle of the kitchen table.  Two taps.  She commits that scene to memory before she decides to move on.

Hear the baritone voices of her father and his friends gathered around a bar and a card table in the basement.  Holding her gown tight against her calves so she won’t trip, the little girl follows the sounds of their voices and the music, tiptoeing down two flights of stairs to reach them.  The wood paneling on the wall provides a place of security for her tiny backbone to rest.  Settling in to hear the stories of race cars and other man things, she pinches her nose against the pungent smell of cigar and pipe smoke mixed with beer wafting through the room.  The sounds of ice cubes clinking against glasses, thudding against the felt top of the poker table awaken her interest.

Finally, unable to restrain herself any longer, she musters up some courage and bravely enters their space.  She’s not too afraid because she knows her father will be gentle, unlike her mother, who would scold her roughly for this offense.  She’s right.  He holds out his arms and welcomes her with a hug and a smile as he proudly introduces her to all his buddies.  Climbing in her father’s lap, she takes it all in before she is sent off to bed where every little girl belongs at this hour.  Her curious mind scans the fake white bricks that cover the long bar, the two sets of bifold doors closed to hide the dirty laundry, and the reel-to-reel tape player built into the wall with stacks of albums and their mysterious covers.  The Allman Brothers, Seals and Croft, and Three Dog Night are providing the ambience tonight.  The men are laughing, telling jokes she doesn’t understand but cherishes anyway, all synchronized with the melodies of soft rock and folk music hanging in the smoky air.  She’s definitely going to write about this in her diary. Or maybe she’ll write another poem.

Feel the hum of the school bus, the half-open windows rattling in the wind.  She sits slumped in her usual seat almost at the very back, not by choice but because her stop is one of the last ones so there aren’t any other seats left.  She hunkers down, bent over her book, the third novel she has read this week on the long bus rides through the country to and from the only high school in this rural part of the county.  The usual bullies will make their attempts at harassing her by pulling up her cheerleading skirt as she walks by, or they will grab her book from her hands, playing keep-away with it while she glares and threatens to slap one of their stupid faces.  She just wants them all to leave her alone so she can get back to her story, relishing the foreshadowing and plot twists, the characters who have become her friends, and the rich metaphors and similes she likes to say aloud because she loves the way they sound rolling off her lips.

“Hey, Bookworm!  Are you talking to yourself again?”  One of the bullies, a lanky fifteen-year- old boy who has probably never read a whole book in his life, jeers at her.  She mostly ignores him but does look up from the page for a quick sneer at his taunting face so close to hers that she can smell the tuna sandwich he ate for lunch.  In the seat behind her, two black girls (that’s what we say in 1979) reach for her smooth, straight, brunette hair.  Running their hands through it like it’s some kind of magical mystery, they ooh and ahh saying things like, “You’ve got baby doll hair." Years later, she will remember those girls fondly, longing for the simpler days when no one thought it was racist to touch someone’s hair just because you were curious.

Taste the words of her own mother as she nicknames the girl “Magpie” and “Mouth of the South.”  They leave a bitter taste of shame.  The storyteller just longs to tell her stories, captivating every audience with her humor and her wit.  On her report cards in elementary school, she gets straight A’s, but in her mind and her mother’s, the A’s are canceled out by the comments the teacher writes on the back:  “She’s an excellent student but she talks excessively.”

Years later, she has become more melancholy and more withdrawn.  She loves solitude.  Her head is full of stories she continuously writes in her mind.  She has never told anyone that secret.  Fear of being too much or not enough leaves a rancid taste of rejection.  One day she dares to trust her husband when she timidly reveals this private world of storytelling to him.  She can’t make eye contact with him as she explains the details of how she creates characters and scenes in her imagination, even becoming attached to them and their tragic stories.  In the silence, she feels the shame, as he has no words to respond to her revelation.  She can’t take back the words, but she wishes she could.

Smell the ink fresh off the pages of her story—the first to be published.  After almost six decades, she breathes in the aroma of fulfillment.  Is this success, or contentment, or both?  She doesn’t want fame or recognition.  She’s just so relieved that these stories have fought their way onto the page, breathing life into the characters and allowing them to vent, to finally have their voices heard. She writes about the struggle, the triumph over painful and tragic experiences, and the joy she has found through the process.

And yes, she has a library in her house now that is home to all of her very best friends—hundreds of novels, volumes of poetry, anthologies of short stories, biographies and memoirs.  The smell of old paper and ink comforts her, and she has surrounded herself with these fragrant friends who remind her of every cherished word she has devoured as she journeyed through sacred places in time with them. Adding her own published work to the shelves in this space feels a bit surreal for her.  Reading her own printed words, she feels a little like the little girl in the blue nightgown eavesdropping on her own imagination.  She feels a deep connection to every word which has had power over her—power to inspire, to enrage, to move her, to ignite her passions, to soothe, to humble, to teach, to impart vision, to comfort, and to lift her head and remind her there is hope.  Ultimately, she knows that she has not been the author of her own story, and she never claimed to be the hero.  She is grateful, no longer ashamed, and is trusting God to write a good ending to her story.

About the Author

Tracie Adams

For the past couple of decades, Tracie Adams has shared her love of literature and passion for writing through teaching middle and high school students and writing scripts for the stage. Her story Losing My Sparkle, A Year Of Loss was recently published by Oddball Magazine. When she is not writing or directing, she can be found photographing grandchildren, sunsets, or animals on her peaceful homestead in rural Virginia.