Storytellers!... I gather there must be at least one of these in every family I know of or have heard about.
They are our grandpas, our distant uncles, maybe even our elder cousins who are living abroad, and they usually carry such names as Jeremiah, Forrest, Archibald or Mortimer. They are people we don't see that much around and who possess that unique colossal ability – call it talent, if you may – to let flow thoughts into words in a suavely engaging sort of manner; people you are eager to be with so that you can experience them fishing stories from that resourceful remembrances box planted inside their heads.
When it comes to grand family reunions - or simply whenever it chances -, there they are, at the very top of the dining table, surrounded by an audience, one single purpose in their minds: to tell strange but often fascinating stories; to draw everybody's attention to times and places which are long gone, if, that is, they ever have existed.
I like to believe that their stories are mostly true stories.
In my family, the Storyteller seat was taken by Uncle Pete.
Not being a man of much talking, Uncle Pete did, however, know how to tell a good tale. He used to sit quiet in the background while the main event took place, waiting patiently for the right momentum, and then, when all the chatting started to fade away, when most of the food in the dishes had been bellied, he stepped calmly out of his silence and hooked our senses with his harsh voice – a whiskey and tobacco’s accustomed voice.
Of course, we only saw him once or twice over a year's period, and it was never around Christmas time. He loathed Christmas. As it happened, his wife, Aunt Laura, had got herself killed in a car accident during the season of 1968, before I was even borne. Mother said Uncle Pete spent some rough time afterwards. It was rumoured that she was carrying his child in her womb when she lost control over the wheel and let the car go flying into a ravine. It tumbled down over the rocky chasm and caught fire and nobody came out of it alive. It took a whole week for the National Guard to be able to pull up the wreckage with the burned bodies inside. Uncle Pete never left the place during those seven hellish days, and the sparkle of happiness burning in his eyes was thus put out forever.
It was ever on such occasions as family gatherings, and always when he was telling his tales of the uncanny, that Uncle Pete pulled out of what we called his “zombified condition". He came alive before his tales, warmth rushing to his face, as if his sole purpose to live was resting deep inside his imagination, hibernating, wanting to come outside, but only when there was someone there, ready to listen. The way I figure it, Uncle Pete and his tales endured a sort of symbiotic relation.
Of all the stories I heard bloom out of Uncle Pete's lips, it was the one about the killing of Harry Jones I remember best. He told it to us - us being me, my brother Zack, my parents, and David, a close friend on mine - about ten years ago, on this hot summer night, as we were lying with our backs down on the lawn of the old cottage, hands behind our necks, the youngsters chewing the sour pipe-tails of grass lilies and the elders looking absently for shooting stars. If there ever has been a perfect night for people to listen to chilling horror stories, then it must have been this one. The moon was nowhere to be seen in that cloudless nothing and the stars glistered in their sockets, piercing fiercely through the gloom like white burning-hot needle-tips; there was a faint breeze racing through the woods, whispering and whistling to and fro gently but relentlessly; and sometimes, far out in the dark, we could hear the lone cry of a coyote echoing against the rocky walls on both sides of the valley. And that immensely wide black sky, so dense, so mysterious … at those moments we felt as if the whole universe, with all it’s lurking demons inside, was getting ready to fall upon our heads full strength.
I was sixteen, and David was seventeen, and as to the story, I remember David telling me a couple of years latter that he never had felt so scared in his life before, and that he doubted seriously he was ever going to feel again. It took him two years just to admit that simple truth. I heard the story myself with rushes of adrenaline racing through my bloody veins, and with the hair on the back of my head in constant take-off alert. Out of sheer terror, a couple of tears dropped from my eyes and slid to my ears, but I think I managed to get hold of myself, though.
At some point on the telling, mother got up and walked away… walked straight inside the house – no stopping, no looking back. She didn’t talk about it afterwards either, nor did we try to pull it out from her. My guess is that she just couldn't take anymore of the creepy dreadfulness which was coming out of Uncle Pete’s mouth.
I think Storytellers have that single marvelous ability of tuning our mind frequencies with the ones pulsating from inside their tales. This world's absoluteness gets as good as gone and we forget we are even listening to someone speaking. We become prisoners in such stories the same way we get trapped in dreams and nightmares. We are strangely drawn into them, we let go of our grip to reality - willingly. I hear them and I know I will not - ever - be able to bring myself to narrate a story with such lust for perfection, with such astounding faithfulness to detail, with such immensely powerful and creative talent...
I wish Storytellers are never gone. And if they ever are, I wish them to be remembered as should be: with a gentle frown in one’s eyes, with a tender smile in one’s lips.
P.S. Dedicado a todos os Contadores de Histórias anónimos por aí espalhados...
Guido: "A felicidade consiste em conseguir dizer a verdade sem magoar ninguém." - 8½ Nemo vir est qui mundum non reddat meliorem?My taste is only personal, but it's all I have.
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