I miss the old story tellers

By Rick Watson Guest Columnist

March 9, 2014

The best history teacher I had in college was a master. He had the class hooked the first day when he told us he preferred to think of history as HIS-Story.

He explained that the history of early cultures, before we humans learned to capture written history, first by hand, then on typewriters and computers, was passed down from generation to generation verbally through storytelling.

Historians learned this by studying pictures carved on cave walls with sharp stones.

I didn’t learn my family history by reading cave paintings, but I did learn what I know by sitting at the knees of my grandparents as they told how “their people” lived.

Granny Watson, my great-grandmother, was born just after the Civil War and by the early 1960s, the years had taken their toll on her frail body, but her mind was still sharp.

Her head wobbled a little as she spoke in a craggy voice about how her family had eked out an existence trying to grow crops in the red clay.

I remember Pap, (my dad’s father) sitting on the porch telling stories. The stubble on his chin was gray as ash and rough as a rasp. His words came slowly, almost as if he had to search for them in dimly lit corners of his mind, but once he started I hung on every word.

Some folks are gifted with a natural sense of pace, timing, and the right amount of detail that makes the listener feel as though they were there when the story happened.

A well-told story allows the listener to smell, taste, hear, and feel the action as if they were there. The scene comes alive in their mind’s eye.

I sometimes worry about the impact technology is having on the stories of our lives.

News travels at the speed of light. The volume and velocity of information is compressed down on smartphone screens to the size of a pack of cigarettes, which we often read while sitting at stoplights….or worse, while we’re driving.

My favorite newscaster when I was young was Walter Cronkite on CBS Evening News.

Old Walt knew how to tell a story. His delivery of the news was like a window that gave me an opportunity to see how people lived in other parts of the world.

Each night he ended his broadcast with, “And that’s the way it is, on February 16, 1963 (or whatever day it was.)

After listening to the beloved anchorman, we all knew that what he said could be taken to the bank.

These days it’s hard for me to watch the news because the truth of the stories seem to vary depending upon what side of the political fence you stand on.

I think ALL the stations are in a competition to see which one can stoop the lowest.

In listening to the news today it would be easy to become jaded and start believing that there’s nothing good happening in our world today.

I know that’s not true. I think it would help if we had more storytellers like Walter Cronkite and my grandpa.

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Happens is available on You can contact him via email: