It was one of those days. The kind when you have a lot of work to do and none of it you want to do so you just piddle.
Tink and I both were piddling. He had a script for a pilot to write and I was rewriting the content for my Web site. Both creatively “stuck,” we sat in our office — he in a cushiony comfortable chair and I on the sofa — and we piddled. We checked e-mail and discussed the brief rain that came. Then, just as I set about serious work, Tink picked up the diary on the coffee table. It was Mama’s.
And that is where the piddling ended and the story began.
My niece, Nicole, had convinced Mama to do a journal of her life, the kind that you purchase and it asks questions such as, “What was your childhood like?” Mama, storyteller that she was, plunged right into the task when Nicole gave her the journal. She loved to talk about herself.
Tink began reading. In a moment, he chuckled. I looked up and he said, “Long story.” He pointed where Mama had been writing about a romance previous to Daddy and about the break-up. When she ran out of page, she wrote in big, scrawling letters, “Long story.”
I laughed. “Believe me, it wasn’t because it was a long story that she didn’t tell it because the longer the story, the better she liked it. It was too long to write.”
That was Mama. She didn’t get in a hurry when she was telling a story. She began at the beginning, looped lyrically through the middle and always dramatically ended the story. No amount of prodding, fussing or begging would get her to shorten a story.
“Mama, just skip all that,” I would say from time to time. I enjoyed her stories, especially when on a long drive, because she would talk from the moment we left the driveway until we arrived hours later wherever we were going.
Listening to her stories made time pass quickly. But there were times, of course, when I was in a hurry and I’d want her to get to the point. Imagine this: she ignored me. She kept on telling her story just as she intended.
I would roll my eyes, heave heavy sighs or throw my arms wildly in the air, yet she didn’t bat an eye. She kept right on at her leisurely pace. She didn’t even get flustered.
One afternoon, Rodney stopped by Mama’s for something. As he was leaving, she commenced one of her tales. He kept edging out the door. Finally, he made onto the porch and down the steps but she had followed after him, never missing a lick. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Then, authoritatively, he looked at his watch and took charge.
“Okay, Bonelle, it’s 4:30 and I’ve got to be at Wednesday night church at 6. Can you finish by then?”
Mama lived 10 minutes from the church’s front door. She paid him no attention. She continued on until, at last, she had the story told as best she could.
Mama, frugal in every other way, did not believe in an economy of words. The way she saw it, the longer a story took, the better it was. In truth, though, Mama was not a boring storyteller. She was artful and had a sense of timing that is crucial to the telling of a good story.
“Have you ever told a short story in your life?” I asked one day during one of marathon length.
She twisted her mouth tightly as oft she did when annoyed. “If it’s too short, it ain’t worth tellin’. Why waste the time?”
And you know what? She was absolutely right.