Growing up in rural Fouke, Ark., I remember sitting next to my papaw and listening to the way he told stories. He was loud and boisterous, often telling the same story with new or exaggerated details each time. I realized fairly quickly that he wasn't aiming to tell true stories; instead, he was trying to entertaining others.
He told nonsensical stories about various things, like the time he debunked the Boggy Creek Monster myth or when he met my grandmother at a skating rink and ditched his date immediately.
"I just let go of her hand and started skating with your grandmother. We hit it off right then and there," he told me. "I didn't even tell that other girl goodbye."
That's where I got my love of talking. Papaw can talk for hours, but you leave the conversation feeling it has only been 30 minutes long. Even at 8 years old, I knew he had something special that made people want to listen. I aspired to captivate others in the same way he captivated me but didn't think that would ever actually happen.
Until I took my boyfriend, Gideon, to meet my paternal family, I didn't think I was too much like Papaw. I am loud and boisterous, but I thought I got that from my mother and nana. While my mom has certainly helped develop my personality and sense of humor, some of my personality quirks are distinctly derived from hearing Papaw tell his stories as a child.
Gideon helped me realize this. As we were leaving Papaw's house, Gideon told me he liked that side of my family. In fact, he said, he understands me much better after meeting them.
"Your papaw is hilarious. You tell stories the same way he does," Gideon said.
"How so?" I asked.
"You're both very loud and likable," he said.
I took that as a massive compliment. Being raised by a single mom, I didn't grow up nearly as close to my paternal family as other kids. I admired Papaw but didn't think much of who I am was influenced by him. Since Gideon told me the similarities between the two of us, I've realized that he's right. I do talk to people the same way Papaw does, trying to establish sincere personal connections while still showing a bit of humor and humility.
Gideon was right about how I tell stories. Like Papaw, I tend to exaggerate a bit to make my stories more entertaining and exciting. I never lie about important things, but I might say I ate two large pizzas when I really had three slices if I want someone to know how hungry I was. I also laugh really heartily when I make a joke, hoping it will help the person I'm talking to understand just how funny I am.
"This is a joke," my laughter tells them. "You should also laugh so things don't get awkward."
I'm sure this can be annoying, but Papaw somehow manages to be consistently likable in spite of it. You want to hear about how he's going to run for county judge someday even though he has no political experience and rarely leaves the small town he lives in. He can make you laugh even if he's telling you about something really mundane, like gardening or regular car maintenance.
If he can connect with people so effortlessly, I hope that means I can too.
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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News. Her email address is CCNNews@cox-internet.com.