What Man?

“Y’all heard about that man, didn’t you?” Daddy asked when my sisters and I were kids.

“What man?” we responded.

Daddy grinned slightly as he gazed into the distance. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, slowly lit one as suspense built, then pretended he’d forgotten he asked a question.

What man?” my sisters and I repeated. We grinned and stomped a foot at him.

We were familiar with his exasperating style but we knew a joke was coming. Or was it a joke? With Daddy we were never sure. He told a joke in such a way that after we had a good laugh we still had to ask him whether it was true.

“Is that real, Daddy?” one of us asked after he delivered the punch line.

“I don’t know, that’s what they tell me.” he answered, then walked off to busy himself with Daddy things, leaving us still wondering.

Daddy’s joke and story telling styles were the same – set us up, draw us in, hit us with a good one, then walk away like he’d had nothing to do with the laughter he left behind. Clearly it was genetic because I saw similar styles exhibited by his siblings. All excellent joke and story tellers.

Just like many families gather around the television at night, our families walked across the field to gather on my grandmother’s back porch. Nannie enjoyed the fact that her children had homes next to her farmhouse, and we all enjoyed her back porch filling with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Story telling would soon begin.

My parents, aunts, and uncles would shift chairs around the huge screened porch as they asked Nannie about the garden, wondered out loud as to when we’d dig potatoes, or decided we ought to fix home made ice cream the next weekend. Eventually, they would settle into the random collection of old metal chairs that lined the porch. Amid the sounds of ice tinkling in the tea glasses, metal chairs being scooted into final position, or a cousin’s dog barking to be let onto the porch, one of them would finally say, “Y’all heard about that man, didn’t you?”

The games had begun.

Daddy or an uncle would stretch a story out for a while and the porch would laugh. The first story would trigger a second. The second story would give rise to a third. Then someone would remember a joke. More laughing from the porch.

At times, Mama or an aunt would feign disgust over a story or joke they considered remotely off color. “Thank goodness that’s all you told.” they might say. “I was afraid you were going to tell the one about the horse!”

A clear signal that the one about the horse should now be told.

Once the horse joke began, Mama and the aunts would sigh in disgust, then grin at each other between sips of iced tea.

The stories my family told were always funny, but I remember how much I loved their story telling styles. If Daddy told one, you may as well have a seat. He could stretch a knock-knock joke into a filibuster. One uncle might deliver lightning fast one liners, another might rival Daddy for air time. One aunt could hardly finish a funny story for all the laughing she did as she told it. I loved hearing what was told and couldn’t get enough of how it was told. There were many years of good story telling on that porch.

Earlier this year, both of my kids and I sat on the screened porch at my parents’ house. Daddy, eighty years old now, sat down to join us. As the four of us discussed what my kids had planned for the summer, I remembered my own summer evenings on Nannie’s porch listening to relatives do their story telling.

During a rare pause in Daddy’s conversation with the kids, I asked, “Y’all heard about that man, didn’t you?”

“What man?” they both asked.

“He’ll tell you.” I said, as I nodded towards their grandfather.

Daddy said nothing, but he grinned slightly as he gazed into the distance. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, slowly lit one as suspense built, then pretended he’d forgotten I’d asked the question.

What man, Big Daddy?” the kids asked him.

Like the pro he was, Daddy slowly launched into one of his best. He stretched it out, paused when necessary, sped up when required, and hit the punch line hard at the end. Both of the kids doubled over with laughter and told him he was “awesome”. I could tell something was on their minds.

“That was funny, but was it true Big Daddy?” they asked him.

He looked at me and grinned from ear to ear. He remembered the old days on Nannie’s porch, just as I had.

Getting no response from him, the kids turned to me.

“Well?” they asked me. “Was that true?”

I grinned at the inquiring looks on their faces. I remembered that feeling when what I’d just heard had been hilarious, but had been told to me in such a way that I really wasn’t sure it was a joke. Daddy’s grin became even wider when I responded to my kids.

“I don’t know, that’s what they tell me.” I said to them. In unison, Daddy and I left the porch, leaving the kids still wondering.

Stuart M. Perkins

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49 Comments

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49 responses to “What Man?

  1. Wonderful story..!! (was that true??) 😉

  2. rubble2bubble

    Masterful. I’m taking notes, y’know.

  3. Ah! At LAST! An age-old mystery solved! Yes, Virginia… Storytelling skill IS genetic! Bless you, Stuart!

  4. Delightful story, well told, thank you!

  5. This is one might just be my favorite so far. A rather lovely tribute to your father.

  6. Brieuse Bernhard Piers-Gûdmönd

    I’m green with envy – not so much at the story told as the way you told the story… Loved it thanks!

  7. What great memories! Loved your story!

  8. Lovely story. Wonderful father

  9. Wonderful, wonderful post. Brings back good memories of family gatherings at holidays. But all of our storytelling was done over a game (or two or three … :D) of dominoes.

  10. You are a master story teller. You must be “That Man” you keep tellin’ about.

  11. Thank you, what a warm family.

  12. overdoneit

    Write a book.

  13. CBurns

    Beautifully told. Great story telling runs in the family!

  14. YOU are a wonderful storyteller. This is excellent writing ❤

  15. Along with the rest above, I am loving this story!

  16. My dad was a great storyteller, too.

  17. heartwarming. thanks for sharing….

  18. You’re right. The art of story-telling is genetic and you have obviously inherited the gift. I so enjoying hearing it and feeling the joy in your memories of times past. Thank you for that.

  19. Love this blog and your knack at telling short, simple stories: something I struggle with a little. However, I leave here inspired and will now go and hit that follow button. Thanks.

  20. I am so glad you live in my air. Your writings add a lot of positive stuff to my days. Thanks so much for the great ending to this one.

  21. No technical comments here: your story gave me goosebumps. Can you believe this? I don’t know what clicked, maybe the Dad thing, maybe the story about stories thing, I don’t know. Pure story telling. Do tell us more.

  22. You are a great storyteller! Keep them coming!

  23. Thank you for the memories. My father also loved to spin a yarn.

  24. Good southern story telling. You obviously inherited it Stu!

  25. Kerin

    You captured the way he told stories perfectly. He was soooo funny!

  26. I really love reading your posts! You write stories so awesomely! (Is there such a word lol)

  27. nothing beats family and family history…the way to pass on tradition, etc

  28. Very nice story, Stuart. It’s sad, too — as I do daily battle with the computerized world — to think of days of storytelling, instead. Thanks for all the stories. Best, Wm. Eaton, Montaigbakhtinian.

  29. Brilliant – as always – I just can’t imagine that it couldn’t be true.
    David

    • Thank you for that, and yes, all very true. Daddy definitely enjoyed his story telling. He loved hearing stories too, but if he had an audience for one of his own…watch out! Thanks again, Stuart

  30. I’d love to sit on that porch to listen in!

  31. beautiful. i almost cried.

    i once had a father like this. he was from virginia, too…

  32. What a gift those memories are! You clearly learned story telling from the best. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  33. Great story, Your philosophy of “storyshucking” really resonates with me. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  34. As I read this story I found myself thinking of the author, Pat Conroy. He didn’t have a happy childhood but he does have the gift of story. You too have the gift of story, Stuart, and a happy childhood too by the sound of it.

  35. A lovely story and beautifully told. The farm and family life sounds idyllic. I read the Chocolate story as well and loved it, so funny, so real, made me want to stuff myself with brownies and chocolate cake!

  36. jordansky26

    It’s kind of funny that, that little story made me laugh without never knowing the joke or whether it was true or not. Here’s one truth you are very talented. It’s hard to be a great story teller. Great job

  37. Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog for a little while today. I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as good as when I arrived. I’ll be back!

  38. I love this story. I sense that your father was such a warm soul. I now know where you get your story-telling talent from.

    • If I have a talent there, it did come from him! He told stories incessantly. He never wrote any down, but told them so often that we generally groaned when he started one! Thanks again for your comments!

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