I come from a long line of storytellers. Not the writer type (except my maternal grandfather whose name just so happens to be Edward A. Grainger). I’m talking about the original, traditional method of storytelling. By word of mouth. When I was just a wee boy, I would sit at the table and listen closely to a bunch of my relatives telling anecdote after anecdote. I took it all in. Every word. Every facial expression. Every emotional reaction. And weren’t they having a blast. That seems like a whole ‘nother century ago—oh, wait a minute, it was, literally!
Travel with me, if you would, through the proverbial mists of time—back to my first decade in the 1970s when my grandfather, dad, aunts and uncles would spin stories. I’d turn the TV off and listen in as nothing else could compete with the humorous and poignant tales that sprung from that 'round table.' It was my Grandpa Fred who captured the audience and my imagination most often. Whether it was the story of how the tire came off his Model T and rolled ahead of him down the road, or the time he cooked up a skunk just to appall his sisters. And none of us could walk away without laughing as Grandpa Fred chattered on about his beloved Millie and the day he was working in the garden, minding his own business, when he turned to find Millie barreling toward him, kitchen knife in hand slicing the air. That was the norm. She chased him with a knife every time she got drunk, and yet he always referred to her as the love of his life!
I had been itching to slip a family story into my writing, although it’s difficult to translate them to the printed page. They lack the distinct delivery of Grandpa Fred with his flawless inflection or a perfectly-timed raised eyebrow.
But, finally, I got one. My grandfather would tell how he’d win free beer through a couple of never-fail bar bets. I took my favorite—a real great trick—and worked it into a story for the Western Fictioneers anthology, The Traditional West.
In “New Dog, Old Tricks,” Marshal Gideon Miles, an African-American lawman in the Old West, is at a watering hole enjoying some Maryland Rye when a young cowpoke tells him to get lost. The kid doesn't know Miles is a peace officer and our hero doesn't reveal it. Miles decides to teach the kid a lesson using a (my grandfather’s) bar bet. In a nutshell, Miles challenges that he can drink three pitchers of beer before the owlhoot can drink three shots of whiskey. Think you can figure it out?
I came to my family's party late and never got to share my storytelling with the bunch from the 'round table' as they have all passed on. But, who knows, maybe in this wireless, electronic age they’re getting to 'hear' my stories after all. Hats off to you, folks. I miss you.