When I read The Odyssey for the first time, one character caught my attention like no other. Most people remember brave Odysseus or faithful Penelope, but my mind couldn’t let go of the Bard. He’s not really an important character. There’s a lot of story in The Odyssey and the Bard takes up so little of it. But somehow he was able to take Odysseus’ stories, with all of his faults and mistakes, and make it into a story that would sing his praises. My husband has the ability to do that too. He can weave stories together more beautifully than Penelope could weave a tapestry or more skillfully than Odysseus could send an arrow through a chink in an axe head.
I’ll never forget the first story he told me. We sat in one of the study rooms in our college’s dingy library. By chance, we were paired for a group project in our children’s literature class. He was the funny guy in the room, always getting the professor riled up with a dumb question in the middle of a lecture or pretending to teach the class for a couple of laughs. At one word, the room was instantly his. He could command it and transform it with just the words flicking from the end of his tongue.
My grandparents were travelers, he blurted in the middle of my question. They would jet off to distant lands looking for an adventure. Spain, Ireland, Nigeria, Japan. They carried a small map and a single dart. Wherever the dart landed, that’s where they went next. He told me about all the treasures they brought home jewels and spices, tokens and wood carvings. Their house was covered in their bounty. You could scarcely walk without nearly knocking over a clay pot or statue. I laughed.
He told me about the stories they’d made on their adventures. How they’d met a crew of modern day pirates. How they’d smuggled gold for some rich Ghanaian mobster. How they’d jumped from a French train into a river just before it ran off its tracks. His eyes held a fire that leapt with every detail.
My family was in for Christmas, visiting Nan and Pop’s lake house. He told me of how he had escaped from the kitchen just before tea and peeled to the docks. My favorite pastime was watching the boats sailing into port. I would imagine it was me returning home in one of those boats, a load of treasure and gold and spices and ritual garb in trunks around me. I made it to the docks just as another boat was heading in. I stared at the men on the boat. Their faces were weary, their backs bent. No gold on that ship, I thought. But just as I was about to turn to the house, a ship the size of a barge came sailing by. It was out near the horizon. I leaned forward as far as I could. My toes gripping the edge and my arm wrapped around a pole were all that was keeping me on the dock. I could scarcely see the men moving on deck, but I just imagined their bounty, how much gold lay beneath the ship’s deck. I imagined myself lying in a bed of gold coins and jewels, like one you’d see in the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin. As my mind wandered in these distant fantasies, my toes slipped off the docks.
He told me how he was inches away from the water when a hand reached out and grabbed the back of his shirt. He remembered it happening so slowly that he thought the hand had reached straight from heaven to keep his small body from plunging into the freezing waters. It was just my Pop, but I certainly had God’s grace that day. We sat in that study room until the library closed at midnight. He must have told me a hundred stories. I listened intently to every single one of them. When I left the library that night, I was completely in love with him.
Since then, he’s told me thousands of stories. Once I asked him how he had so many. I make a new one every day, he told me. But it wasn’t the sheer amount of stories themselves that shocked me; it was the way he told them. One day I discovered the secret to how he constructed such fantastic stories. It was Thanksgiving, and I was meeting his family for the first time. We pulled up to his grandparents’ lakehouse. The house was colored a grey blue on the outside with white trimmings and shutters. After seeing such serene simplicity, I was utterly surprised when we entered the living room. Wall to wall was covered in ornate decorations. A Celtic tapestry hung in the middle of one wall, but it was surrounded by masks and spears from South America and Africa. The adjacent wall was covered in shallow woven baskets of all colors. It looked like a rainbow had been created in their living room, a rainbow fashioned by cultures from all over the world.
Almost immediately I was welcomed by hugs and kisses from family that I didn’t know at all. While the mothers and grandmother prepared the meal—I offered to help—Pop sat me down and explained every person in the room: who they were, what they did, how they were related, and, of course, some crazy story that he remembered from years and years ago. After the meal, the family didn’t turn on tv to watch the football game. No, they sat around in that museum of a living room and told stories. All of them, round and round the room stories rang from any person who had the chance. Stories flowed through their veins like immortality was said to flow through the veins of Odysseus’ gods. I gazed into the face of the man who would become my husband and imagined the long line of storytellers that came before him. It flowed back for thousands of years, perhaps all the way back to the Bard in The Odyssey himself.
It’s only fitting that I would fall in love with a storyteller. I have always loved stories. You could scarcely find me without a book in my hands. When it was time to go to college, I determined that I wanted to study stories. My entire life was built upon stories, and when I met my husband, he fit into it like the final puzzle piece.
So here we are now. The storyteller and the story lover. My mind often goes back to the image of his family line full of storytellers stretching back for generations. But now, I can see it stretching forward. That ability to tell stories, it was genetic. Like I said, it flowed through their veins. One day, the children I bear him will have that ability as well. Every time they open their mouths they will enchant a new person. Someday they will enchant someone like me, someone who can’t live without stories.