Storytelling in a world of facts

Published 6:04pm Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When I was a boy I learned that “telling a story” meant telling a lie. Little white lies were thus “stories.”  Also, most of the “stories” we read or were told were actually some kind of “fairy tale,” not about real people but imaginary characters.
When I began writing these “Remember When” columns I was relying on my memory to tell completely factual stories about real people, all from my personal experience. I usually got it right and only my Aunt Mildred would correct some details from time to time. Then as I began to share things told to me by others who liked my columns and wanted something put in them, I began to be regarded as a historian.
Perhaps it was my selection by the late Betty Frost to head the Polk County Historical Association that fueled that notion, but I soon had to protest that I am just a storyteller, not a real historian like Anna Conner or Mike McCue. I have always been quick to correct the myths and misunderstandings that found their way into my recollections. After all, they usually make another column!
Many times the “corrections” are made over lunch or on a grand tour of some portion of Our Area. This time it came in a formal letter, beautifully typed and arranged on the page, stating positively that Grace Coolidge never lived in Our Area, but was a frequent visitor to the home of Mrs. Florence Adams atop White Oak Mountain. Sandy Taylor was bothered by my trifling with the facts, but offered to show me the ruins of the Adams house and gardens.
The rock walls Sandy showed me were the same ones I had been shown some years ago as remnants of “Mrs. Coolidge’s house.” Sandy’s late husband Earl bought “the Skyuka side” of White Oak and developed the property starting in 1983. Sandy has done a great deal of research on the history of the mountain, and has passed her findings to Susan Speight, who is writing a book about it. Howard Williams said that Dewey McMurray took care of the Adams house and grounds for many years, living in a smaller house nearby.
When I checked with Howard Greene about his regular chats with Mrs. (General George) Marshall and Mrs. Coolidge on the porch at Oak Hall when he arrived for Kiwanis meetings, he said that he just talked with Mrs. Marshall. I must have added Mrs. Coolidge to his story because I was told by someone that she lived at Oak Hall after closing her house on the mountain. Howard also told me that Mrs. Coolidge’s limousine was kept at Clyde Pittman’s garage in Columbus, and she used a smaller car to go up on the mountain.
Even though I have always maintained that I am not a historian, but just a storyteller, I do not knowingly pass along any false information. I have always done some verification and checking with people before writing my columns. What I write about a departed friend is not an obituary, but an appreciation based on my personal relationship with that person. You can depend on that, and you can go to the obit to get the important facts.
The historians write to share knowledge; I write to entertain. I have been invited often to “tell stories” at meetings and public gatherings and will be at the Meeting Place on May 18 to do just that. You may not learn much, but you might have to grin now and then. You might even see an opportunity to “set me straight” on something. Y’all come!

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