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Ten New Southern Stories

October 10, 2013

Late one afternoon last week I talked by cell phone to my friend John Faris. John was out in the country sitting on the front porch of a log cabin he had restored several years ago. We talked about his new book, Ten Was the Deal: Southern Hunting and Fishing Stories. John, who appreciates a good tale as much as I do, is truly a Southern storyteller.

One night six years ago John and I sat in a boat on a farm pond in Laurens County way past dark. Under a full moon in May we caught bream on fly rods and swapped stories.

Storytelling is a treasured part of John’s heritage and mine.

My grandfather had a tale suitable for every occasion.  My dad was a master storyteller. My earliest memory of a religious experience is of Dad telling the Old Testament account of Gideon, the man who won without fighting.

My uncles on both sides of the family have been repositories of treasured family memories preserved through oral tradition.

My father-in-law, Mr. Jack, was a delightful storyteller. As was often my experience with my grandfather and my dad, Mr. Jack and I could exchange tales for hours at mealtimes.

Lest I err by implying that storytelling is only a male endeavor, let me be quick to add that my mother and my grandmothers shared their own wisdom through stories, usually read out loud. Their ability to share narratives is one reason that I value books as I do.

Folks often ask me questions about storytelling.

“Why is storytelling so important?” The question has been posed in every generation. My best answer is to tell a story.

Miss Maude and Creech lived in an old, unpainted, heart pine farmhouse in Barnwell County. Creech spent most afternoons sitting on the front porch. Children of all ages enjoyed stopping by for a visit. The old man always had a tale or two to share.

“Uncle Creech, why do you tell so many stories,” his nephew asked.

“I’ll be glad to explain, but would you bring me some cool water first?”

The boy walked across the yard to the well. He lowered the wooden bucket to the bottom of the shaft and cranked it back up to the top of the well. He filled a gourd dipper from the bucket and carried it to his uncle.

“Thank you, kindly,” old man Creech said. “The water is mighty good, but why did you bring me the dipper when I only asked for water?”

“How could I bring you water without something to hold it?”

“And that is exactly why I tell these tales. Stories hold the truth I want to give to you.”

Stories are the vessels in which wisdom is contained. Aesop spun his fables, Hebrew prophets used metaphors, Jesus told parables, and the best teachers have followed their examples. Stories are the containers into which moral instruction, deep pathos, and refreshing humor are poured.

I am sometimes asked, “Where do you get all of your stories?”

For me, it is a matter of paying attention. I find stories everywhere, in everything I read, in every conversation, in silent observations during the course of every day.

Every person has a story. They are almost always glad to tell it if someone is willing to take the time to listen.

“How do you remember so many stories?” is another frequent question.

Stories are like sperm. They have great potential but a very short life expectancy. In order to be viable they must be  shared quickly or stored for later.

One way to remember is to keep a journal. I almost always have a notebook close at hand. Another way to remember is to tell the story to another person soon after you hear it. Every time you tell it, the story becomes more deeply implanted in your own mind.

“Are your stories true?”

Good stories contain nuggets of the truth, even those that are fiction. In the best storytelling tradition, the truth is far more important than fact. Actually, fiction is one of the best ways to tell the truth. Storytelling, like story writing, rings true when it is about what you know and where you live. Ernest Hemingway wrote one of my favorites, The Old Man and The Sea. He understood the power of a blue marlin. Mark Twain wrote the definitive American novel about life on the Mississippi River, the place where he grew up.

My stories are about my neck of the woods. They are from the lumberyard, from the cotton mills, from the rivers of the Piedmont, and from the Blue Ridge Mountains. The best stories take root in the landscape we have traveled. They come to life in the characters we have encountered along the way.

The craft of storytelling is a part of the legacy one generation pass to the next. After our nine-year-old son had spun a long yarn in his third-grade class, the teacher asked, “Where did you hear that story?”

“My dad told it to me,” he said.

“And did your father teach you to tell stories?” the teacher inquired.

“No, Ma’am. That just runs in our family.”

A storyteller takes delight when others want to listen. An audience of a few or a large group that enjoy a tale is all the encouragement needed. When one storyteller encounters another, their joy is multiplied. That has been my experience with my good friend John Faris.

John is an outdoorsman as well as a Southern storyteller.  He was reared in Laurens, South Carolina, in the 1950s and ‘60s. He cherishes family and friends and enjoys adventures as a sportsman. Now John has written a book. Ten Was the Deal: Southern Hunting and Fishing Stories is a collection of ten of his stories. More than a book of adventures about hunting and fishing, this volume is about coming of age in the South. It has all of the enchantment of yarns spun while sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck; all of the lore of tales told around a campfire.

Set in woodlands, along Piedmont streams, in Lowcountry fields, or along the coast of the Carolinas, these stories reveal a boy’s journey to manhood:  turkey hunting with a grandfather, duck hunting with a dad, and his first kiss with a fishing buddy.

Some of John’s best stories emerge while angling for bass in a Midlands farm pond or perched in a duck blind in Pamlico Sound.  John writes about shooting wood ducks and a US Army helicopter on the same day.  He tells us how battleships moving down the Atlantic coast and fishing for spot tail bass make for the best day ever.

In these pages we learn the secret recipe for the best dang lard in Laurens County.  We discover how duck hunting can lead to a good grade in a high school French class.  We hear the story behind the sage advice that big possums walk late.

Ten Was the Deal should be a fixture in every hunting and fishing lodge across America.  It should be by the bedside of every sportsman.  Packed with Southern charm and down-home humor, this book is one you will return to again and again.

I have read John’s book from cover to cover. These stories will often make you laugh out loud. Some of these stories will bring a tear to your eye.  I intend to give several copies as Christmas presents. Sportsman or not, if you enjoy a good story, you will love Ten Was the Deal: Southern Hunting and Fishing Stories. I highly recommend it to you.

Kirk H. Neely
© October 2013
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