Recently my family spent a few days in the hilly, woodsy town of Grass Valley, for a wedding and a visit with some old college friends.
My buddy Patrick, a Valley kid who settled in Grass Valley and never left, is a pleasure to be around because he loves to tell and hear stories.
That makes him a lot like me, and it’s why we have been friends for more than 50 years (we were at Fresno State in the ‘60s, a source of stories in itself.)
Because as a lifelong newspaperman, I also love telling stories. That is the mission of a journalist, to tell stories — clearly, accurately and fairly.
An editor I worked for at The Fresno Bee always entreated us: “Tell me a story.” It was our mantra as we trudged from assignment to assignment.
But old folks reminiscing is a different animal. Like our aging bodies, our memories sag and droop. They break and bruise and wrinkle. In other words, our reminisces are often unreliable. But never “fake.”
So we keep telling the old stories because they remind us of our younger days, before smart phones, drones and self-driving cars.
Patrick always starts a story with this caveat: “I might have told you this before, but... “
He probably has told me the story, but I usually can’t remember, so I let him proceed. Often, I’ll remember something about his tale halfway through, but listening to it is so life-affirming, I never let on.
Likewise, I often repeat stories when talking to friends. Some will interrupt mid-sentence to announce that “you already told that one” at some earlier get-together. I just smile, nod my head and try to find a “good one” that they might not have heard yet.
Spinning tales with friends and family is a favorite pastime around the world. Because almost every survey I have seen reports that what really makes people happy is not possessions, gadgets, devices. Instead, the secret to happiness is relationships.
And those relationships are best when they are in the flesh — face-to face instead of FaceTime to FaceTime. As much as I may like visiting with my grandson on my cell phone or tablet, I actually adore being with him in person.
Because an image on a screen or is nowhere near as satisfying as a hug. And no You Tube video can come close to the sights, sounds and smells of real-life in real time.
Sure, we can’t always spend quality time with loved ones, so too often the screen shots and telephone voices will have to suffice. But let’s never lose the sight of the real.
I was starkly reminded of that following breakfast with Patrick and his wife, Linda. Across town, at the wedding site the day before the nuptials, I was lunching and scanning the news online. As several people began sitting at the table and conversation took off, the father of the bride (a longtime friend) softly and politely reached over and closed my laptop.
Embarrassed, I joined in the table talk.
That was a reminder to never let a screen block out our friends. And to never let “I’ve heard that one before” stifle the storytelling. Because good storytellers, like artists and musicians, never tell the same story the same way twice.
So the next time you see me, don’t be surprised if I say, “Tell me a story.” Or, better yet, “Let me tell you a story.”
It’s what I do.