The Consummate Storyteller

Nov 19, 2014 | 1 comment

Willard Espy, 1989 Video

Willard Espy, 1989 Video

Yesterday afternoon I spent the better part of an hour with my Uncle Willard. He was telling stories about Oysterville – familiar stories that I had heard him tell many times previously. On this occasion, though, he was ‘in person’ but not ‘live.’ He was speaking through the magic of a digitized tape-recorded talk he gave at the Ocean Park Timberland Library on July 29, 1989. Oyster documentarian Keith Cox had sent it to me on a DVD in a digitized version.

It was a pretty poor quality recording all the way around – lousy camera angle, horrible background of empty bookshelves, a very difficult-to-understand audio. But it was Willard in all his storytelling glory and I watched it eagerly, thinking all the while that he was just the age I am now when the original tape was made.

DVD Case

DVD Case

He told about Espy and Clark’s arrival in Oysterville and when he messed up some of the facts I found myself calling out to him: “No, it wasn’t Nahcati; it was Old Klickeas who told Espy where the oysters were.” and “No, not April 3rd; it was April 12th that they arrived.” But I soon got caught up in the magical world of his stories and I didn’t listen for facts anymore.

Willard never did claim to be a historian, just a storyteller. When his works were published, though, he was as meticulous as he could be about the facts. But somehow, it wasn’t those details that mattered a twit back on that Saturday afternoon twenty-five years ago. The audience, heard but not seen, loved every bit of it.

I found myself trying to analyze what made Willard the consummate storyteller. Was it his slow, deliberate, thoughtful delivery? Was it his obvious delight in pointing out the foibles of the people he talked about? Was it the confidence with which he spoke? Was it some unknown undefinable quality of charisma?

Whatever the combination, I wish I could replicate it next Spring when I teach “Putting the Story Back in History” at Grays Harbor College. Maybe if I watch the DVD again. And again…

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    No one privilaged to have been at the Oysterville Store on November 8th would question your ability as a story teller, Sydney. It must run in the family. My fingers are crossed that I can take your6class!


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