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Storytellers I Have Known

By Staff | Oct 3, 2018

I have always thought of myself to be more of a storyteller than a writer. In my judgement, a writer knows the difference between a verb and adverb, noun and a pronoun. For myself, I believe I can tell a story and make it enjoyable for others to hear or read, but don’t ask me about an adverb or pronoun.

I have been fortunate in my life to have met others who I consider to be excellent storytellers. In my case, four men whose verbal skills made their storytelling interesting for others. They possessed a unique ability to add small details or a change in facial expression while telling a story, which made the listener want to hear more. Unfortunately, those men I am referring to have passed into history. But, I believe if I refine my storytelling abilities and make my stories enjoyable, I may continue their legacy in my own words. It would be impossible not to admit they gave me inspiration to retell a story, and do it with a bit of their individual skills.

The first storyteller was a man named Buck Burlingame. I wish I could tell you I knew Buck’s first name, but I never asked during my visits with him. I guess I’ll never know his real name; he was just Buck in my memories. By the time in my life when I first met him, I remember him to be an old man. He lived in a small house in Burlington on the old road coming from out the creek. I would ride my bike to town, and Buck would be sitting on his porch. I would stop, and he would tell me of the days when he knew my dad in his younger days. Later, I got my first motorcycle at the age of fifteen. As I passed, he would motion for me to stop and talk. He admired my shiny new Honda. Then he would proudly tell me of his Indian motorcycle he rode in his younger days. I was fascinated by his stories on the open road in his youth. Now the truth was, I never saw Buck’s motorcycle, and I have only his stories to verify he ever had one. But I enjoyed his colorful tales of riding a genuine Indian.

The second storyteller I had the good fortune of knowing was Lemoyne Coffield. I first knew him as my family doctor. I came to know him as a storyteller after he retired. Occasionally, I would stop by his home, and he would tell me of a time when he began practicing medicine. He also talked of watching the community grow. He told me stories of Bruce Pool and how it came to be built. Once he told me of his decision to become a physician. There was a time when he was deciding what to do with his life, and he was not sure he wanted to become a doctor. He credited his father for helping him to make the final decision. His stories of the early days of his medical practice were interesting and enjoyable to hear. I remember him as a gentle-spoken man, and I very much enjoyed hearing about his life and living in our community as it grew.

The third man I remember was, by profession, a story eller. Or maybe more accurately, he was a chronicler of the town’s history, Jim Fitzsimmons. Jim was a man of remarkable memories of the town and the people who made it what it is today. Or, should I say, what it was at one time. His job working for the newspaper gave him insight in the community as it built itself with the help of its local citizens. Jim seemed to believe that the community was more about those people and their lives. I very much enjoyed going by the museum he and his other history friends started in the old Wells building. When I visited, he would show me new things people had brought by for display. Each artifact had a story, and Jim knew every word of it. He was proud what he and others had built for the community, to visit and glimpse into our past. I miss Jim and our talks in the museum.

The last man I will tell you of is the best storyteller I ever had the privilege of knowing, Wayne McCaskey. I knew Wayne from work and also as part of the community. Now, Wayne was a true storyteller in every sense of the word. He knew when to embellish a point in a story, or when to pause and let you think before continuing. He had the ability to pull a person into his story by asking a question in the middle of the tale. He did that just to see if you were paying attention or merely listening to his words. He might come to a point where something went bump in the night; he would then suddenly slap his hands together, making you jump. Sometimes he would ask you a question as he was telling the story, hoping you would have your own ideas where his story was going. He was entertaining and a walking history book.

All four of these men I had the privilege of sitting down with and drinking a cup of coffee while listening to their stories and tales of yesteryear. Were they embellished and added to in each retelling, maybe. But these men were part of a long tradition of passing history and stories down to the next generation by word of mouth.

With the month of October upon us, I want to pass on two ghost stories. All that you need to enjoy my stories, is have a bit of curiosity about what waits in the dark of the night. Have you ever wondered why sometimes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck? They say it is when someone walks over your grave. Or, maybe in the case of next week’s story, the infant Mary’s grave.

Wayne once asked if I believed in ghosts. My answer indicated I was not sure. But the question got me to thinking what happens when a person passes from our world. I did indicate I believe there was something after this life. Next week, I will retell Wayne’s story of Infant Mary’s Ghost. The following week I will take you along as I visited her eternal resting place, waiting for her to return into our world Through the Lens.