Now that I think back on it, I see how I was prepared and schooled at every turn to be a storyteller. Stories fascinated me. I listened to those who told them and practiced telling them myself.
When I was 4, Mama, for some very strange reason, had missed church. So when I came home she said, “What did you learn in Sunday school today?”
I recited, word for word, the story of Jesus and the tax collector, Zacchaeus. “You come down from that sycamore tree,” I said pointing my finger upward. “I’m goin’ home with you.”
Mama was so proud that for the next week, she asked me to tell that story to anyone who came around. It was around that age that I became spellbound by the stories of radio commentator Paul Harvey. I stayed with my Aunt Ozelle while Mama worked. We had lunch every day at noon sharp, just in time for the melodious, soothing voice of Mr. Harvey to come lilting over the little radio that she always had on when she was in the kitchen. He had the most gorgeous and compelling voice. In fact, when Dodge Ram trucks used his voiceover in a recitation last year — “So God Made A Farmer” — in a Super Bowl television ad, it became such a runaway hit that it aired for several months.
Each afternoon, he would present a short story that unraveled as a mystery. It was a true story that took a twist that you weren’t expecting and couldn’t figure out because it was so well told. Just before the “reveal,” Mr. Harvey would say dramatically, “Now, after a word from our sponsor, we’ll be back … with the rest of the story.”
It never disappointed. I cannot begin to articulate how much I learned about setting up a story and delivering a powerful ending from “the rest of the story.” Paul Harvey is my favorite storyteller in history.
I thought of all this the other day because, while rummaging through a drawer, I found a cassette tape. I picked it up, read the lettering and smiled, recalling the joy it had brought me.
My dear friend, Pinky Cabe, called me about a week after my racing memoir, “My Life In The Pits,” had been released by HarperCollins.
“Did you hear Paul Harvey a few minutes ago?” she asked.
“Well, I didn’t either but Maudelle called and said he talked about you and your book.”
I nearly dropped the phone. “Pinky! What did he say?”
Pinky never speculated or gossiped – both of which drove me nuts. “That’s all I know,” she said.
Immediately, I started burning up the phone lines, trying to find people who had heard it. I found two and both said that he was talking about how much he enjoyed the book and was recommending it. I called our local station, WDUN, who carried the program, and the manager, Joel Williams, gave me the number for Mr. Harvey’s office in Chicago. I got his secretary on the line and explained that I had missed the broadcast.
“Is there any way I could get a copy of it?”
She was kind but firm. “No, I’m sorry. We have a policy against that.”
“But, ma’am, you don’t understand,” my voice edging toward tears, “This means the world to me. Paul Harvey said my name. I have to hear that melodious voice saying my name.”
She softened. “What’s your address?”
The day the tape arrived from his office, I pulled it out of the mailbox, thrust it into the car’s player, and played it over and over. Paul Harvey saying my name.
“America, you must read this delightful book by Ronda Rich.”
It’s one of the most terrific blessings of my life, a gift that connected a storytelling teacher with a student he didn’t even know he had.
And, that’s the rest of the story.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.