Learning through Laughter

Bob Owen, Humorist

There are a lot of things I like about getting older. One is that I’m now old enough to enjoy people I didn’t pay that much attention to when I was younger.   I was giving a humorous speech in West Virginia last week and called my cousin, Janie, who lives “kinda on the way.”   She’s always been one of my favorites, because she loves people and laughs and laughs.  Her family and friends are the core of her soul.

From the moment she bounced into my car, Janie was telling stories about neighbors, family, and others she might have met only briefly.  All with admiration in her voice.  Then, she pulled out two CDs and said,  “I want you to hear a couple of Mother’s stories we recorded shortly before she died.”

I was instantly transported to another time.  I remember Aunt Velma the way you remember fresh bread and cookies baking. I remember Aunt Velma and my Mom being best friends.  I remember Aunt Velma as a preacher’s wife.  BUT..

When I listened to the CDs, I realized I didn’t know Aunt Velma, not really.  I knew her the way a cat knows people.  They come and say “hi,” if they’re inclined to, and then they’re off exploring other arenas.  I realized as I listened to her talk that I had missed something!  

Her voice filled my car with warmth and friendliness, and it didn’t take a second for me to get caught up in the stories.  She had not written them down in advance.  Her family had just stuck a recorder in front of her, and she took off like a thoroughbred race horse.  Obviously, she had told these tales numerous times, but they weren’t a routine.  

Life from her perspective was fun and about helping others.  As a writer and storyteller myself, I pray for one ounce of her natural gift of educating and entertaining. Janie explained that the stories usually would be embellished a bit (actually a lot, she said) with the retelling.  But, that goes back to an Owen saying – a story’s not worth telling if you can’t add to it.

Aunt Velma talked about putting a fire on the stove to wash clothes, about running through a field of briars to attend to a dying lady she didn’t know, about dressing a dead woman.  She talked about gardens and neighbors.  Her style was gifted.

I regret I didn’t know this about her when she was around.  But, if I had, I probably would have been so intent on being a young me that I wouldn’t have paid attention.

I begged Janie to let me borrow the CDs, and I listened to them on my two hour ride back home.

I’m fine with being an old guy.  It means I now get to spend time with Janie and Aunt Velma.   I wish you could hear their stories.  

I think maybe I’m on to something here.  Perhaps we should all live so someone wants to spend time with us when they grow old.

Date of Blog Story: 
September 26, 2008

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