Sunday, 03 May 2020 16:09

COLUMN: The art of storytelling

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Everyone has a story to tell. It could be about something that happened yesterday or many years ago.

Stories can be completely true or can let your imagination run wild. Some stories can be like parables in the Bible, meant to teach a moral lesson, while others are a way of communication or entertainment.

When folks get a little older, they sometimes tell the same story over and over again. An example of this was my Dad’s story about Mr. Hudson and his old car breaking down. 

Seems Mr. Hudson was trying to make it up the long Pee Dee River hill coming back from Wadesboro on Hwy 74 when his car just let him down.

The story goes that Mr. Hudson had made a trip from his home above Ellerbe over to Wadesboro to take care of some business. As he started back home to Richmond County, his car knocked off about halfway up the long river hill. 

When his car knocked off, Mr. Hudson just let it roll backwards onto the shoulder of the road. Not knowing anything about fixing his car, what was he going to do? It was a long ways to walk to Ellerbe for a man of his age and, in that time, there won’t such a thing as a cellphone.

Only thing Mr. Hudson could think of was to wave his white handkerchief in the air when a car happened by. In those days, traffic won’t as heavy as it is today. Seems no one wanted to stop on the muddy shoulders of that long hill.

Finally, a car with a young man and his family pulled in behind Mr. Hudson’s car. The man pulled his parking brake up, got out and asked Mr. Hudson if he could be of any assistance. 

“Well, yes sir,” said Mr. Hudson. “Do you know anything about mechanic work on cars, young man?” 

The man replied, “Well, I’ve worked on a few.”

It wasn’t long before the young man had the hood up on Mr. Hudson’s car and was inspecting the motor. Why, it didn’t take him but a jiffy to see that the coil wire of Mr. Hudson’s car had jumped off on one end. After replacing the wire, he told Mr. Hudson to try firing her up. As Mr. Hudson pushed the starter button, the car fired right up and ran like a top.

As the young man lowered the hood, Mr. Hudson, being a gentleman but also being a little frugal, thanked the man and asked him, “How much do I owe you for your trouble?” 

The young man started to say, “There will be no charge,” but before he could get the words out of mouth, Mr. Hudson said, “Can’t you do a little better?”

I don’t know if’n Mr. Hudson learned anything from the kindness of a stranger, but I sure hope he changed his ways.

My Dad, just before he died, would tell this story every time our family came up that Pee Dee River hill. To tell you the truth, I got tired of hearing it, but I never said anything. What I wouldn’t pay to hear him tell it again today! 

A true storyteller never reads a story but tells it in an audible fashion. He or she tries to paint a picture in the listener’s mind. You know, I can’t draw a lick on canvas, but I would like to think I can paint the most beautiful picture in a person’s mind with my stories. 

An old storytelling friend of mine once said, “An artist can paint the most wonderful picture of a flowing waterfall on canvas, but a good storyteller will allow you to imagine that same waterfall and feel the mist coming off of it.”

I’ve been telling stories for most of my life, but as the crowds started getting larger, I became a little nervous. I soon realized that the larger crowds encouraged me to just be myself on stage. If you know your material, things usually go just fine.

Always remember: a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The story has too flow and should not be dragged out or told too fast. Wait for the reaction of your audience. Some people react differently. I once was telling at a festival and a man on the front row sat, just about the whole time, with his eyes closed. Why, I didn’t know if the man was bored to death or sleeping. After the show, I asked him how he enjoyed the stories. He said, “I just closed my eyes and pictured in my mind everything you were telling about.”

Everybody can’t write a story, but everyone can become a storyteller. You see, stories are everywhere, if’n you’re a mind to look for them. Just as a photographer longs for a perfect picture, a master storyteller is always on the hunt for a good story.

In this time of pandemic, stories are developing every single day. Young folks will be telling stories to their children and grandchildren for years to come of their experiences during this uncertain time. 

Remember, stories are a big part of our lives and our history. If we don’t tell them or write them down, they will be forever and ever lost as generations pass by.

J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and his just- released book “Southern Fried.” Contact him or check-out his books at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..