Telling the story of A Fire, a Phonebook Page and Finding My Father

Photo credit: Jamie Thompson

I’m finally sobering up after a night that was intoxicatingly special. Friday night I was one of 6 storytellers at a public event held at the Linda Auditorium. The occasion was a celebration of the 8th anniversary of our local take on the Moth Story Hour, The Front Parlor Series, which occurs monthly in two locations; Albany and Troy.

Telling a story, without notes, in front of an audience is a nerve-wracking experience. I’ve never performed on stage or addressed an audience like I did on Friday and I wasn’t certain how to prepare for it. I knew the story I wanted to tell, the one about how I found my father’s family 30 years ago. It’s a good story, made better by the fact that it’s true. Obviously, I know the chronology of the tale and the important players, but it was challenging to decide which details added to the story and which might merely distract from the overall recounting. I began working it out on “paper.”

It took me a couple of weeks before I nailed down the segments that I wanted to include and the basic order in which to share them. I practiced in my head, honing and editing, during runs and walks and drives. I revised. My biggest concern, besides completely choking, was that I would forget a certain episode or anecdote that I knew was important. I decided it made sense to count paragraphs and associate each one with a word. That way I only needed to remember 12 things. I could do that! On Wednesday, I printed the story for the first (and only) time and made 12 flash cards, for rehearsing.

Friday afternoon, I went for a run (shocking!) opting for my usual 5 mile loop. I passed the remains of a house that had been destroyed by a recent fire. I inhaled and the scent of fire damage immediately tweaked my memory. I knew that smell. I showered, grabbed the last can of hard cider from my fridge and headed to the Linda with a couple of talismans.

The first photo I ever saw of my father, the page from the Dublin phonebook and a stone from my father’s grave fashioned into a pendant.

Somehow I imagined there would be space there for me to actually run through my story out loud. There really wasn’t, though, with 5 other performers and an increasingly full auditorium. I drank my cider, flipping through my index cards, scanning the paper copy of my story and periodically checking the crowd to see familiar faces who had promised to come. I peed three times. More quickly than seemed possible, I was being introduced and made my way towards the stage. My last thought was this – “If you get nervous, just imagine you’re just telling the story to me. You got this.”*

I exhaled, deeply and slowly, and stepped up to the mic.

*As always, thanks Aloysius

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Filed under Albany, Aloysius, Events, family, friends, girlhood, Ireland, Irish, Local, musings, Observations, stress, upstate New York, writing

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