By: Dennis Hawk
James R. Osgood, founder of the Atlantic Monthly once said, “a story which you could not add anything to, by your fancy and invention, isn’t worth while…” Embellishing a story is an art. The Oxford dictionary defines embellishment this way: “to make (a statement or story) more interesting or entertaining by adding extra details, - especially ones that are not true.” In other words, embellishment is lying, straight forward, nothing less. So to be a good storyteller one has to be a great liar.
My embellishments started very early. Six years old, I think. I was raised by a very stern, no-nonsense mother who had no problem whatsoever with corporal punishment of the severest kind. Among her choice of weapons were a hand across the face, ears to be pulled, the fly swatter, a wooden spoon, a willow branch, (which the receiver of punishment had to go fetch for themselves), a frying pan, and then the nuclear weapon—my father with his razor strap. For those who don’t know what a razor strap is, it is two pieces of leather, sewn together at the top, 2 1/2 inches wide and about 3 feet long. When held with two hands, one on one end and one on the other, loosened to make the shape of an “O”, then pulled together quickly, makes the sound like a gun or a whip. It certainly got everyone’s attention.
So by the time I was six years old, I was trying to figure out ways to circumvent the wrath of my mother. In all honesty, I loved my mother. She could be kind, sweet, caring, a wonderful cook, innocent, somewhat naive ( she thought that mice grew up to be rats), generous, encouraging and then EXPLOSIVE - BOOM! I never knew when she was going to explode or why. She would grow two extra sets of arms, - flyswatter in one, wooden spoon in another, willow branch in the third, frying pan in the fourth, a lightning bolt in the fifth and a tornado in the sixth. Her eyes would grow red and bulge from her head while zeroing in for the kill. This part of her personality, I learned very quickly MUST be avoided at all cost. I had no choice but to appeal to her naïveté and become an amazing liar.
I lived a total of three and a half blocks from my school, so by the age of six, I was walking back and forth to school from home. The entire walk took about 12 minutes from the door of the school. The herd was released at 3:30pm. So, if I was NOT home by 3:45, I was late. On this one particular day, Marlow Schaefer and I decided to take a little detour through Riesner Park. Well, time kinda drifted away and by the time I got home it was probably close to 6:00pm. What I didn’t know was that my parents were driving around trying to find me.
When I finally arrived at home, I knew I needed a good story. “Mom, there was an accident on my way home! The police and ambulance were there and I couldn’t get across the street. There was this kid on a bike who got hit by a bus and was dragged more than a half-block. What could I do? I just couldn’t get home.” Understand, Atchison, Kansas has no more than 10,000 people, where everyone knows everything about everyone and nothing gets by anyone, not to mention that this supposed incident happened two blocks away from my house. My story did defuse the situation. The issue became my preposterous story with my mother trying to convince me that this incident could not possibly have happened. But I stuck to my story and wasn’t about to budge an inch. Result? An entire evening of my father, my mother and sister trying to convince me of my obvious jump from reality.
BUT, I did escape the wrath! None-the-less, I knew that I needed to hone my craft…which I have been doing ever since.