Monday, May 26, 2014

When Telling the Story - Know the Story

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, May 26, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia

Sometimes it’s not the story you tell that matters – but rather how you tell it.

When my oldest grandson Will (did I mention his name is William?) was just a little more than two years old, his Grandma and I took him on the first of what would become our annual vacation treks to New Hampshire.  We stay in a hotel, visit StoryLand and other local attractions, and just have an all-around great time.

But that first trip was a treat we will never forget, made more so because it was the first time I ever told my grandson a story.  And that is quite a story all by itself.

With a big day looming in front of us, we tried to get Will in bed early that first evening.  We tucked him in, read him a story or two, and then told him to go to sleep.  Yeah – right.

My wife decided this was an opportunity to run out and get some supplies.  By default that left me in charge, and she told me to get our grandson to sleep by the time she got back.  I assured her that would be no problem.

But it was not that easy.  We read some more books, and I pretended to fall asleep next to him.   Somehow he wasn’t fooled, and I knew there had to be another way.

Then it hit me.  I asked Will if he would like Grandpa to TELL him a story.  He seemed to consider this an exciting alternative and quickly agreed.

Quickly scanning my memory banks, I told my excited grandchild I was going to tell him the story of the Three Little Pigs.  He squealed happily and snuggled up in his bed, looking up at me with great anticipation.  I was quite proud of myself.

That is, until I started actually telling the story.

I was a few minutes into relating the fairy tale when I suddenly remembered it involved the eating of the title characters by a scary animal.  It crossed my mind this might not be the best sleep aid.

And worse than that, I realized that in fact I did not remember many of the key details of this story of destruction and near-death.

I tried to change stories, but Will was having none of it.  I had promised Three Little Pigs, and he would settle for nothing less.  So I told my rather unique version of the story.

When Grandma snuck back into the room, Will was totally involved in the sorrow of the swine.  The first little pig had just lost his house made of sticks.  The second little pig had fled after the Big Bad Wolf had blown down his house made of newspaper.

“And there was a knock on the door, and the Big Bad Wolf asked the third little pig to please let him in”, I related earnestly.  Will was almost asleep at that point, but Grandma’s near hysterical laughter woke him up.

I managed to finish the story in a fairly non-violent manner, and my grandson seemed quite happy.  He fell asleep with a smile on his face, and I celebrated my obvious brilliance despite my wife’s insistence on pointing out the many places where I had veered off from the original transcript.

The next night we put Will to bed, and he asked for the Pigs story again.  I flushed with pride, pushed Grandma aside, and set out to once again enthrall the youngster with my story.

However, I couldn’t quite remember exactly how I had told it.  The problem was – Will did.

“No Grandpa – not right” he rebuked me.  He wanted exactly the same story (the kid has a memory like an elephant).  It took me an extra half-hour to finish the story because he kept correcting me and making me start over.  But he eventually dozed off in satisfied slumber, and we watched him sleep for a while.

Next month Will – now six – will head up north with us again.  He’ll probably fall asleep watching a DVD this time.  He won’t want to hear my convoluted tale of the polite wolf and the pigs living in a house of newspapers.

But we’ll always have that time I told it to him.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and grandfather of three.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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