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My Dad, the Storyteller


                                      I grew up in a home without TV-well; we didn’t have one during most of my growing years.  My dad reasoned that it was the source moral decline in the family thorough the nation. “There’s nothing good on those jabber boxes!” he roared, whenever my siblings and I begged him to get a television. Our small minds reasoned that if our friends had them in their homes, it couldn’t be as bad as our dad made them out to be.   A few times, he relented to our whining and brought home a TV that he had received from one of the neighbors, who no longer needed it because they had bought a newer, up-to-date model. However, the mechanical box of entertainment never stayed very long. My dad would soon declare that he should of never brought the thing home because of the effect it as having on us. I guess he thought we were spending too much time watching cartoons and not getting our chores done, I don’t rightly remember.  Thus, my entertainment came mostly from three sources; books, my imagination and my dad…the storyteller.  Though I am now grown and moved away with a family of my own, there are times after a stressful day when I like to go off by myself … close my eyes and drift back to yester-years. I can still see my dad performing for my siblings as he told stories about growing up in Germany, or recounting a tale he was told as child.Most of the stories he recounted were about the Baron Münchhausen, a well-known character of German folklore. My siblings and I had grand adventures, as my dad would recount the tales he had been told as a child, of how the old Baron caught ducks with bread and pieces of string, or the coat or how he had made out of rabid wolf skin, and many others. I bought a VHS movie a few years ago about this fabled person and somehow, the movie just didn’t portray the stories in the way my dad had told them-the movie was extremely lacking in the quality with which my dad had told these tales. Although I enjoyed the tales he retold from his childhood, the ones I enjoyed the most were the stories about him, like the story he often told about the duck...Roast duck is a dish much enjoyed by my dad. With us eagerly gathered around, he would recount the time his mother prepared this tasty dish ahead of time for the guests the next day. It was late at night and the delicious aroma of the cooking birds drifted upward to his bedroom in the loft, his stomach growled with hunger at the smell, but knowing that his mother had labored to prepare the birds as part of the meal for guest on the morrow, he did his best to resist temptation of going downstairs.  However, it was too much for him-after all, he was a growing teenager. Quietly, he slipped out of bed and down the hall to the kitchen, there were the magnificent birds, four of them, cooling on the counter… his stomach rumbled…Just one little taste was all he wanted…hmmm…it was so-o-o…good. Just one more little piece that was all he was going to take. Soon, he had eaten the first duck and his stomach no longer growled as before. However, he still wasn’t quite satisfied and took a taste of the second bird. Soon, he had eaten all the ducks, content now he returned quietly to bed. Tomorrow’s guests forgotten, until morning, when he was awaken by his mother’s loud cries of distress!

We listened enthusiastically, hanging on his every word. We saw the ducks on the shelf cooling, smelled them cooking, and even tasted them while my dad acted out his tale. He gestured with his hands and even stood to demonstrate how he crept down the stairs to where the ducks were. Some of his antics brought wild giggling from us as we sat on the couch watching him.

After he finished, we’d beg for just one more story. He would pretend that he didn’t want to tell any more, causing us to plead harder for another tale.


“All right.” He would at last relent. “Just one more.”

Happily, my siblings and I settled down one the couch once more, eagerly waiting for him to begin.

My dad was raised on a large hay farm where his father was overseer. This farm also raised horses; one young filly that he trained was trained backwards.

“What...backwards? How do you train a horse backwards?” you may ask. The answer is that “whoa” meant, “Go” and “giddy-up” was the word for stop One day, Grandpa asked him to return the horse to the stable for him, forgetting to tell my dad that the mare that was trained “backwards”.  It took awhile for my dad to get the horse started towards the barn, wanting to take it easy, he tried slowing the horse down by saying, “Whoa”. Instead of slowing, the animal quickened her pace with each command.  By the time, he figured the mare was the one his dad had trained,

it was too late. The creature was galloping for the open barn, the doorway was too low for him enter on her back… there was a painful thud and a thump as he was ungraciously brushed from the mare’s back. After he told this tale, he’s say, “That is why I don’t like horses…” he’d say a bit more one the subject... a few words that showed his dislike of horse.  However, I will not write all that he said here, for fear of offending the more tender reader of my tale.  

One or even stories were never enough...he would tell other knowing what would happen when he finished telling his tale.

However, his stories were not just for entertainment, sometimes he would tell a tale to teach us a lesson, like when I didn’t want to eat something on my plate, or moaned that I could not finish my dinner.

Where most parents tell their kids about the hungry children in Africa or some other poor country, my dad would tell my siblings and me that we should be thankful for the food in front of us because someday we may be without, as he was in Germany during the World War II as a boy.

It was time of want and famine, food was hard to find. One day while searching for something to eat, my dad stumbled up one a bin of potatoes.  These were not the fresh, crisp kind, which you want to bake or mash. No, these were the growing, mushy, stinky half-rotten kind. Maggots of every size were crawling on them and in them.

“Ugh!”  We chimed while he described them; somehow, the spinach on my plate looked a lot better than it did before.

The growl in his stomach demanded that he look past the squirming insects…this was food.  Glancing at the looks of disgust on our young faces, he would add with a laugh, “Just a little extra protein.” Now, whenever I see a potato I think of my dad.

I learned too from my dad that enemies are really friends we haven’t gotten to know yet. As a teenager, my dad befriended an old Russian soldier, who taught my dad that unleavened bread dough makes good fishing bait. He also taught my dad a few words in Russian…most are not polite.

One day the old soldier brought to my dad his watch, for he had noticed that my dad is very good at fixing mechanical things. Carefully, my dad took the watch apart and inside he found a dead bug that was stopping the workings of the watch.  Showing the cause of the problem to the Russian, he replied, “The engineer is dead.” They laughed together.  After my dad had taken the bug out of the gears where it was stuck, the watch started working once again with a musical tick...tock...tick...tock...

Some of my father’s tales made me very thankful for modern the toilet.  How glad I don’t have to use the outhouse or bucket from under my bed. However, a toilet can be a very puzzling thing to someone who has never seen one before.

During World War ll, some Russians soldiers came to the farm where my grandpa was overseer, and took over the property.  They came upon the toilet in the bathroom. Having never seen a bathroom before or a toilet, they didn’t understand what

it was for. While examining it, one the soldiers pulled on the chain that flushed the toilet...whoosh, down went the water, and then it filled up with new. The men were amazed...what was it? After a few more flushes, they assumed that it was some kind of washing device.  

It was near dinnertime and the soldiers decided that they would like to have some potatoes with their meal...hey, they reasoned, why not use the washing device to clean the potatoes.


So, they got a few of the vegetables, put them in the bowl and pulled the chain...whoosh went the water...down went the potatoes. Figuring that the tubers had gone down a chute and would reappear in the basement, a couple of the men raced to the floor potatoes.

Puzzled as to what happened to part of their meal, the Russians searched carefully for the potatoes. And thinking they could find the opening of the chute where the potatoes should come out, they left a man in the basement and tried washing potatoes a few more times, before one of the older men asked my dad in broken German to explain where the potatoes went.

My dad and his parents had watched this whole incident without laughing or mumbling a word... to do so could get them shot. Luckily, the soldiers had found the situation humorous instead of insulting when my dad explained to him by gesturing with his hands and other actions that the toilet was for a more personal use than washing vegetables.

I smile as I write for I can see him acting out the story in my mind’s eyes, just as he had done many times before.  

Not all of my of my dad’s stories brought laughter or giggling; however they did cause me to reflect seriously about what he said.

One of the tales he told that had a major impact on my life was about when he confronted the pastor of the parish that his family belonged to.

The lesson that day in Sunday school was on the Godhead and how there is one God with three identities as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The example the pastor used was when Christ was baptized in the river Jordon by John. As my dad read the holy writ, he began to wonder if what his clergyman taught was right. After all, he counted three distinct beings, each with a precise purpose, not one as he was being taught. The pastor did his best to make his pupil see and correct his erroneous thinking. The more he argued with my dad the more convinced my dad became that he was right. At last, the religious leader concluded that my dad was just a troublemaker and went to see his father on the matter. Grandfather listened to the clergyman as he explained his complaint to him. After some serious thought, he decided that his son had a right to his opinion and told the pastor so. Needless to say, the religious leader left their home very upset and forbad my father from attending class the Sunday school, unless he repented of his wrong thoughts.

From this I learned to not always trust what others told me, but to search and to study things out for myself. To listen to my heart and stand up for what I know to be correct, even if it is not a popular thing to do.

From my dad I learned that it is all right to stand up to bullies, even if that person happens to be older than you like your teacher.

The school was short on teachers and needed someone to teach their students. They hired new teachers, some of whom were not really qualified to teach the youngsters. One of the teachers that my dad had was mean-spirited. He was known to punish the children for minor misdemeanors like an ink smug on their paper.

One day my dad had three messy blots of ink on his page. The teacher decided that he must be punished for his sloppiness. In those days, the misbehaving child ended up sitting in the corner on a stool with a tall pointed cap. However, this educator liked to rap his misbehaving students on the knuckles with a short ruler, which was very painful

The teacher told him that he would receive three raps of the ruler across the knuckles, once for each blotch.

The teacher took hold of my dad’s hand to keep him from pulling it away, he raised his ruler with the other, and with the first strike, my dad endured the pain without showing any emotion, the second... still no reaction. This made the instructor upset, so the third time he brought his ruler down harder than the other times.  My dad watched waiting as the man’s hand began to descend....

 “It’s all in the timing.” My dad would say in this part of his tale, while demonstrating the actions of the teacher.

The ruler closer to hand, he pulled back his hand; the ruler smacked down hard on to the teacher’s own knuckles... the man winced with pain, tears coming to his eyes. Funny, he never rapped the fingers of his students again. Wonder why? Today, when I go home to visit with my dad I smile as my children and those of my siblings gather near and beg him to tell them a story. I know what will happen when he finishes the first and they beg for just one more tale from my dad, the storyteller.

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