Growing up, I remember Papa telling stories at the dinner table. My grandfather liked to talk about his youth, but avoided his early childhood, which I know he’d spent with thirteen brothers and sisters, few who’d lived as long as Papa. His stories all starred himself as a young teen, as if that’s where his real life had begun.
In all of Papa’s stories, he was on an adventure. He would leave home in these tales, a smoker and a risk taker from a poor family. He’d thumb a ride out-of-town to find work where he could in a Huck and Finn-style escapade. Papa picked crops and cooked for cowboys. He fished and worked in factories. He danced and sang his way across the whole state.
Papa would laugh and gesture and came alive when he was a storyteller, so different from the quiet man he was the rest of the time. I got the feeling he would travel back in time and relive those teenage days in an instant, no matter what he’d lose in the bargain. Some days I think about my favorite years too, and wonder if they’ll be the ones I write about soon, or if I’ll keep those days to myself.
I know that my grandfather joined the army at age 17, but Papa never told me about the 17-year-old soldier he’d been. I never heard about him as a 22-year-old newlywed either, or learned anything about the jobs he’d chosen while he’d raised his small family. Papa clung to his favorite span of time when he told his stories, and never ran out of new things to tell me.