Gather round my knee all ye Lords and Ladies and sit with me as I spin you a story of intrigue and drama. I tell you a tale of a mysterious man with a knife and an unlikely hero who is faced with a dangerous choice when his friends are in danger. From one story teller to another, I swear that everything I am about to tell you is true.
Except for the part that isn’t.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me start at the beginning where all good stories start;
Once upon a time there was a little boy. He lived in a little house in a little town with his beautiful and charming mother and two older and wiser sisters. Now, long before blogging was even a twinkle in the mother’s eye she would tell stories. Funny stories, scary stories, stories that were true and stories that were made up. Some were stories that had been passed from generation to generation and some were found and read aloud from the pages of a book. Some stories were created on the spot and others were recited word for word exactly as they had played out earlier in the day but all were told with the enthusiasm and passion they deserved. As the children grew and started to have adventures of their own, they began to join in, one by one. The story teller became the audience and the audience became the story tellers and around and around as the days passed, they spun yarns and told tales, laughing, sharing and entertaining each other. Everything was very good indeed.
The mother told stories from when she was a little girl, she told stories from when her children were only babies and she told stories about her exploits at work. The oldest daughter told stories about the interesting things that she read, she told stories about the exciting world of high school drama and she told stories about the highs and lows of young love. The middle daughter told stories about course objectives and fundraising goals, she told stories about her plans for the future and project deadlines and she told stories about the daily happenings of middle school life. The little boy sometimes felt that all the best stories had already been told. Finding a way to share the spotlight with these three story tellers was a challenge that required a creative solution but the little boy was nothing if not creative.
Now early on, the mother had learned a very important lesson. Before they started school, when her children told stories, she never need clarification on which adventures had been had in their mind, and which had actually happened because their days were always spent together. When her first born started school, for the first time the mother was faced with the challenge of trying to sort the stories into categories of fiction or non fiction. When the story involved an elephant as a substitute teacher the mother smiled and made the mistake of asking what REALLY had happened at school that day. What followed somehow escalated to tears, accusations and time outs until the little girl would admit that she knew the difference between real and pretend. Unfortunately no amount of logic could convince the little girl that elephants were not capable of teaching a kindergarten class and no amount of tears could convince the mother that elephants had been misjudged. The next day as the tired mother dropped the little girl at school she couldn’t help but greet the teacher with mock surprise lamenting her lack of trunk and tail. The teacher just smiled and replied, “Oh, Elmer is teaching the senior kindergarten class today” and the horrified and guilt ridden mother turned to face a large man dressed head to toe as Elmer the Safety Elephant. From that moment on she chose for the most part to concentrate on listening to the story rather than focus on fact checking.
This story however is not about the oldest daughter, it is about the little boy, and after a busy and exciting weekend he crawled into bed Sunday night sniffling and sneezing. The mother decided on that Monday morning to let him sleep in just a little. She had to work at 11am and figured the extra rest might help him get through the school day rather than sending him off early only to have him call her in the middle of her shift wanting to come back to bed. The school was called and a message was left that the little boy would be dropped off at 10:30. When the phone rang just before 10 the mother almost ignored it (because of her irrational fear of horror stories that begin with a phone call).
It was the principal, expressing concern that the little boy wasn’t feeling well but explaining that it was very important that he come to school right away. A police officer was waiting in the office and he needed to ask the little boy some questions involving a knife.
The mother had always been against weapons of every sort. She had never let her children have toy guns in the house but somehow her son managed to fashion them out of pieces of wood or unsuspecting household items.
When she complained about the violent nature of his games her son assured her they were only stun guns. When she walked into a massacre of Barbie dolls lying lifeless on the carpet she was comforted by her son who explained they were only in comas. Still, she was certainly not one to take such serious allegations lightly, so she marched her son into school unsure of what exactly the situation entailed but determined to let him find out the hard way that weapons were dangerous and not to be played with.
The police officer, parents and principal piled into the tiny office and stared at the pale and shaking little boy as slowly but surely the story unfolded. The gentle games that the mother encouraged him to play did not exactly endear him to the boys in the class and so he spent most of his time with the girls. He explained to the girls that this did not make him weak however, and in fact, just the other day a dangerous man had asked for his help. The little boy had answered his phone to hear a low and threatening voice demand that he deliver to him a knife. Although he didn’t feel comfortable with such a task, the man threatened the little boy. He warned him that he knew where he lived but the little boy was very brave and still refused to help. When he elaborated that he also knew where all of the little boy’s friends lived (including the now wide eyed little girls) he realized the only way to keep everyone safe was to pass a knife under the table to the man and never tell a soul (except of course his best friends, 2 wide eyed little girls). When the little boy failed to show up for school that morning the girls were convinced that the dangerous man had found out that the little boy had shared their secret and had harmed him in some way and chaos ensued.
Parents were concerned, police were called and the class room was put on lock down. The mother could feel hysteria bubble up in her throat as she wondered if she should laugh or cry. Obviously this was story telling at its finest. The plot was conceivable enough with just the right amount of detail that it was in the realm of possibility (after all, it’s not like we’re talking about a teaching elephant) but surely ridiculous enough to question the reality of a dangerous criminal asking a 9 year old boy to be his next accomplice and finding a random table to conclude the deal. Sadly the mother realized as she looked from the stern face of the principal to the strong profile of the police officer with his hand resting lightly on his gun, that we are not in Kansas anymore. The little boy quickly assured the police officer that it was just a story. There was no knife, no dangerous man and the cell phone that the man called the little boy on, in fact did not exist (thanks to the mothers irrational fear of horror stories that begin with a phone call) . The police officer then told a story of his own about a boy who called wolf, peppered with scary words like ‘charges’ and ‘false accusations’. The principal hoped the little boy had learned his lesson and reminded him of the dangers of stories told under the pretense that they are real. Since she was in a Catholic school the mother just bit her tongue but secretly wondered if Jonah’s mother would have dragged her little boy to the front of the firing squad and asked “Did you REALLY get swallowed by a whale and spit out on the shores of Nineveh” if the school’s curriculum might be very different indeed.
As the principal led the little boy back to the classroom she assured everyone that counselling would be available for those that needed it and the mother wondered if that included the little boy. She was sure that he was in for a very hard day and as she hugged him good bye she whispered in his ear that she loved him very much. She hoped that if the other kids in the class called him a liar he would remember that he was in fact a story teller and that by the time the little boy got home from school the mother would have sorted out for herself what was the difference.
One day the mother knew that the little boy would grow up and captivate his audience with the cautionary tale of a little boy who put his school in lock down by the power of his words….but that is another story.
Hopefully this one ends here…
And they all lived happily ever after
Great stories happen to those who can tell them.~Ira Glas