“Did you take cigars from the store? Now, don’t you tell a story,” my mother would say, which is confusing now, but I understood perfectly back then.
My mother would never have called me a liar. A word like that would have felt like Caster Oil in her mouth – slimy. It would have choked her. To accuse anyone of such a thing would have been much too harsh, even if it were true. Labeling someone a storyteller was much gentler, even for a dreadful sin such as stealing Swisher Sweets from our own store.
To be called a storyteller was actually a compliment to me. I knew so many them at that time, men I admired. Their stories, mixed with truth, kept my mind actively visualizing things that could not have possibly been true, but should have been. Oh how I wanted them to be true.
A story is just an ordinary deviation from external reality. “There never was a story worth telling that didn’t deserve a little exaggeration,” my grandfather would say. He was right of course because he was a back porch entertainer, and a good one at that, but he didn’t get paid, didn’t profit from it, and that made all the difference in the world.
“I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape.” (Steinbeck, East of Eden).
I thought long and hard about her question, as she hovered over me, her finger in my face. Certainly, I had taken the cigars, and I knew it was wrong even for a thirteen-year-old boy trying to find his moral compass, but my mother was far too delicate to disappoint, to hurt. If I lied it would wound her, and there was no gain in that for me, so I told a story – for her sake.
“No, I didn’t take them,” I lied by telling a story.